The real debate on Monday night wasn’t between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney: It was between their surrogates on Twitter and other social media outlets.
And on Monday night, it was a tweet-fest as everyone from Karl Rove and Ann Coulter to Donna Brazile and Bill Maher were trying to spin, debunk and promote key quotes and zingers from President Obama and Governor Romney.
There was even a steady flow of tweets from the president’s official account, even though he was live on TV talking. He wasn’t tweeting from his cellphone as Romney was speaking—it was a team of surrogates.
The Twitter love fest between political operatives and journalists was just another sign that real-time spin in the social media world has grown exponentially this year.
A recent study from Pew Research shows that 60 percent of Americans use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and 40 percent of Americans use social networking systems to talk about politics on some level, from liking a Facebook page to joining online interest groups.
But among people who use social networking systems, only 16 percent use Twitter, Pew says, while 69 percent use one or more of many social media services, including Twitter, Facebook, and other sites.
The eye-catching statistic for political operatives from Pew: About 35 percent of social media users have used those services to encourage people to vote.
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The campaigns obviously had a premeditated strategy. The Obama camp knew Romney would mention that the number of Navy ships was at 1916 levels. The Romney team had its response about Obama’s lack of trips to Israel queued up.
Both online teams had their viral messages out immediately.
The bigger online ground game for the candidates is in the arena of Facebook discussions, likes, and comments.
Facebook skews more female as a demographic, and it can be a powerful medium for spreading viral messaging. Both campaigns are fighting hard to affect undecided female voters.
In general, about 75 percent of all female Internet users interact with social networking sites, compared with 63 percent of men, Pew says.
The early feedback on Facebook to the third presidential debate was one of boredom.
Brian Stelter, the New York Times media reporter who started his career as a blogger, says that Facebook reaction seemed tepid due to the nature of the debate and the competition from two major sports events on TV.
Twitter messages were also down from the two prior presidential debates and the vice presidential debate, to 6.5 million, compared with 10 million for the first debate.
The top words mentioned on Facebook during the debate didn’t include any of the zingers and other potentially viral comments tossed out by Obama and Romney.
There was 2.2 percent more interest in Obama than Romney during the debate, according to Facebook’s statistics.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.
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