In the moments before last week's much-anticipated rematch debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, messages like this showed up online:
"Let's skip the play-by-play on Facebook during the presidential debates tonight, folks. If you must, do it on Twitter with (hashtag debates). You'll reach those who actually want to be reached."
Implicit in the post was that our civic, if not necessarily civil, discourse is now also very much a cyber discourse.
America in 20102 fully expects to vent about and follow politics electronically.
Not long ago, TV was the overwhelming voice in the political conversation. It consisted of campaigns talking at us, often in ways that drove us batty.
Today, the television is but one of the screens battling for voters' attention. The explosion of Twitter and its ilk - played out on mobile phones, iPads, laptops and desktops - let the electorate talk back.
"It's one part effective and one part distracting," said Sarah Wood, secretary and treasurer for the Social Media Club of Kansas City. "You catch new and different interpretations of what presidential candidates have said, and you can fact check on the fly.
"The downside," she said, "is the emotionally charged content and the satire is very distracting."
Wood is part of the technologically savvy culture that lives to post reactions to the season finale of a favorite television program to Facebook even while pulling up a weather radar on one screen and a Twitter feed on another to find out when it will rain.
During last Tuesday's debate, Wood watched the YouTube live stream on her iPad, while using her iPhone to read real-time posts on her Twitter feed.
"This tech-savvy generation wants to be involved in conversations to create a connectivity that a singular viewing of an event cannot produce," she said. "We want other opinions and interpretations to be part of our experience."
Indeed, following the pattern from the two previous nationally televised debates, Monday night's third and final debate between Obama and Romney on foreign policy will surely draw millions to their multiple screens.
Their 100-minute exchange last Tuesday generated 12.4 million comments on Twitter and Facebook, according to Bluefin Labs, an analytics firm that studies social media's reaction to televised events.
It was also the all-time top political event in social media. It trailed only this year's Grammy Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards. (We are a nation with priorities, after all.) The first presidential debate, on Oct. 3, ranked fifth. The candidates' discussion on immigration generated the biggest social media spike.
"The growth of social platforms like Twitter and Reddit (where users share links to news) are bringing a whole new experience to the election this year," Evan Conway, president of the Kansas City-based OneLouder, which makes apps for mobile phones and tablets, said in an e-mail.
"We're seeing new types of random, humorous trends such as 'Big Bird' and 'Women in binders,' " - references to comments by Romney that went viral - "taking flight, rather than general topics like health care or the economy," Conway said.
He also noted a slew of social celebrities who make a name for themselves by commenting during political debates and throughout the campaign season.
Most Popular Stories
- Hezbollah Chief's Assassination Claimed by Sunni Group
- SpaceX's Satellite Launch Is 'Game-Changer'
- Allstate Seeks to Invest in Minority Firms
- U.S. Growth Stayed Steady During Shutdown, Fed Says
- Newtown Massacre Heard on 911 Recordings
- Climate Change Early Warning System Urged
- Latin Music Conference Turns 25
- New Home Sales Shoot up 25 Percent in October
- Reid Confident Congress to Pass Immigration Bill
- Liberty Power Gets Minority Business Nod