If you followed the 2012 Presidential election or watched the Obama vs. Romney debates last fall, the chance you had something to say is pretty high. Even more startling, you may have found yourself – or your more outspoken friends and family – voicing political opinions online. The American public now consumes its political news media on real-time social platforms. So, with the 57th Presidential Inauguration just days away, the Associated Press has vowed to cover the Washington festivities with full text, photos from 16 AP photographers, high-def video, interactive, reporters' tweets and other social media on a real-time blogging platform via ScribbleLive.
(Source: NY Daily News)
Of all the social outlets for political release, one channel rises above the rest. Not Facebook, with 1 billion active users, but Twitter. According to its engineers, Twitter counted 31 million tweets about the election, on Election Day alone! Following the announcement of President Obama's win, there were an average of 9,965 tweets per second for a full hour. This includes a one-second peak of 15,107 tweets per second about the Barack Ness monster, as Jimmy Fallon would say. Compared to 2008 when people sent just 229 Twitter messages per second on election night – the 2012 election brought in 43 times more messages per second.
Why is it that Twitter's 140 characters speak louder in politics? One reason may be that the micro-blogging site allows for real-time communication. Twitter is made for sharing and receiving information immediately, whereas Facebook and other social platforms, including blogs, allow for greater elaboration and editorializing after an event. Because of the massive sharing of political opinions on Twitter, its engineers realized they had a platform for civic debate and created a massive data set analysis to monitor it. The Twitter Political Index measures Twitter users' feelings about the candidates as expressed in the two million politically charged Tweets every week. Twitter claims the Political Index is not intended to replace traditional polling, rather reinforce it. But, did the Twitter Political Index predict the re-election of our 44th president? Yes, yes it did.
(Source: Twitter Political Index)
Many, many factors went into President Obama's victory on November. Still, it's well known that the sheer power of the President's Twitter presence rivaled that of his opponent Mitt Romney. Of the millions of tweets from the 2012 Presidential election, President Obama takes the cake for the most popular tweet of all time. The photo of the President and First Lady hugging with the text, "four more years" is the most retweeted tweet on Twitter. Also posted to Facebook, the photo is the most "liked" post, ever.
(Source: CBS News)
So how is Twitter changing our political game?
Thanks to social media, political campaigns can now send out messages quickly, without relying on expensive TV ads and time-consuming press interviews. For voters, social media has redefined transparency in politics and given American citizens an opportunity to let their voices be heard.
With every positive, there is a negative, and for the politician, participating in social media opens a new channel for criticism, constructive or not. According to Wesley Donehue, a Republic Internet consultant, "Too many politicians aren't voting their conscience, they're voting to placate blog commenters, and that's no way to run government." But is it? If the whole point of democracy is giving the people a voice, Twitter gives them that outlet.
How do you expect the President and his team to use Twitter on Inauguration Day?