The Debates and Social Media

by Jeanne Bernish on October 2, 2012

Here, at last! The first of four presidential debates will be held tomorrow night in Denver. Topic? Domestic policy. Living in a battleground state I have been subjected to all kinds of target marketing that most Americans probably have not had to endure. I cannot read the New York Times or surf the Huffington Post without seeing Barack or Michelle. Even my Facebook wall and Twitter stream have been invaded by promoted posts from the Obama campaign (either Romney isn’t paying for promoted posts or I am not in the GOP’s targeted demographic.) I would hazard a guess that the amount of money spent on the presidential campaign in Ohio alone is in the millions – but I wonder how much of that campaigning cash includes promoted Tweets and Facebook posts (not really, just being rhetorical.) And as a social media enthusiast I am preparing for a Twitter storm tomorrow night of epic proportions. I anticipate both candidates will have marshalled professional social media practitioners to fill the stream with Tweets and take aways. You think Twitter was engaged with the Olympics? Just wait.

The Numbers Guy from the Wall Stret Journal had an interesting post this past week: “Why Voters’ Tweet Volume Might Just be Noise.” Just in case you can’t access the original article (because it is behind the WSJ paywall and I can’t seem to create a permalink off of their site) the import of debate centered Twitter volume tomorrow can be found here:

Whether this means anything for the outcome of the election is an open question. Twitter usage has grown dramatically since the last presidential election, but users remain very much a skewed sample of all Internet users, who themselves don’t represent all voters. Also, a few enthusiastic and prolific tweeters can juice the numbers. So can tweets from interested non-citizens and the under-18 set, who can’t fill out a ballot. And tweets needn’t be endorsements; they can instead mock what they describe.  by Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy blog.

Juicing the numbers? You bet. Not only is it extremely likely that both campaigns will have salted the stream with nuggets of tweets (even going so far as to publish suggested tweets to enthusiastic followers) but hashtags will be appropriated, promotions parried, and retweets employed by both parties to both amplify and mock.

I will not be participating in the Twitter folly tomorrow night. I believe the presidential debates are too important to be viewed through the filter of social media. I also make it a practice to never, and I mean NEVER, watch the commentator responses immediately following a debate. I prefer to sit back and synthesize everything I have heard – framing the statements, bravado and truth meter. Check back here on Thursday for my take aways.









{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Bernish October 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I’ll be interested to see whether those who are active in social media around the debates are somewhat self-selected: that is, folks who have already voted or are planning absentee. Intuitively, I think there’s a logical connection between social media activity and early voting behavior.

Jeanne Bernish October 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I disagree. I think the point of the article in the Journal, and in this post, is that social media is easily staged and is no more an indication of voting behavior than the number of political commercials during an evening of tv viewing.

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