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Social media reacts to the vice presidential debate

October 12, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


Joe Biden and Paul Ryan sparred for 90 minutes on Thursday night and then shook hands. But some of the most interesting reaction was outside the debate arena, on Twitter and Facebook.

It was another big event for Twitter, the online messaging service that allows instant reaction to every candidate’s smirk and grimace. Facebook also issued basic usage numbers on Friday.

On Google, the top search terms related to the debate were "malarkey" and "conflating."

On Twitter, usage was significant, but at about one-third of the volume of the first presidential debate, and the word “malarkey” was the Big Bird of the vice presidential debate.

On Facebook, Biden had about 36 percent more mentions than Ryan.

Early sampling polls on Thursday and Friday morning didn’t show a clear-cut consensus winner in a lively exchange that moderator Martha Raddatz was able to reign in on multiple occasions.

Unlike presidential debates, which can make or break a candidate under the right circumstances, the vice presidential contests are known for delivering a few memorable lines, but not really changing the outcome of an election.

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]So they are made to order for Facebook, and especially Twitter, as the Big Bird phenomenon showed last week.

The most-popular online memes on Friday were Joe Biden's smile/laugh and Paul Ryan's reference to his unborn child as a "bean."

Vice President Biden provided plenty of Twitter-worthy moments, but the consensus among debate analysts was that both candidates energized their base by appealing to voters already committed to voting Democrat or Republican.

Rep. Ryan was seen as making more of an effort to speak to independents.

Biden seemed to be getting the most mentions—positive or negative—on Twitter, especially with his constant on-camera reactions.

Social media reaction to the debates is an important trend to follow, even though the metrics about tracking winners, losers, and voting preferences on Facebook and Twitter are murky at best.

A Pew Research study just before the debate shows that about 10 percent of debate watchers “dual screened” the first debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by watching live video of the debate as they looked at reactions on the Internet.

“Overall, 32 percent of those younger than 40 say they followed the debate live online, including 22 percent who followed it both on television and online, and 10 percent who followed exclusively on a computer or mobile device,” Pew said.

The highest percentage of “dual screeners” was among independent voters. Pew also had adjusted its sample group because it included more independent voters than Democrats or Republicans.

About 51 percent of people under 40 said they followed part of the first debate and its aftermath online, a much higher share than older aged groups.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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