This is the Twitter election.
Michelle Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech last night peaked at 28,003 tweets a minute. That’s twice as many as Mitt Romney got at his Twitter peak during his speech last week. As of about midnight, there were 3 million tweets related to M’Obama’s prime-time performance.
Soon after she stepped off the podium, whoever was manning Barack Obama’s Twitter account tweeted a photo of him on his couch with his two daughters, watching the speech on TV, pride etched deeply into his silent expression.
Michelle’s biggest fans were watching from home: twitter.com/BarackObama/st…
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 5, 2012
Comedian Kal Penn tweeted his #sexyface and started a trend that generated 2,000 tweets per minute.
In 2008, the number of tweets over the course of the two conventions combined totaled 360,000. On the night of Mitt Romney’s speech alone, there were 4 million tweets related to the occasion, even as TV ratings fell dramatically compared to four years ago.
The numbers are impressive, but they’re not what counts. What matters more is that Twitter amplifies feeling. In political theater, which is exactly what the conventions are, feeling is what counts.
Last night I posted a sample of my Twitter timeline as Michelle Obama’s speech played out. Even Republicans would have to concede that it was a masterful display, exuding confidence, hope, and excitement while subtly undercutting everything Romney said the week before. (As I suggested in another post yesterday, the public’s online reaction seems to focus on emotion rather than facts.) But while the television coverage captured her delivery in high-definition, Twitter crystallized it in gleaming little nuggets, adding glaze to the lines that jumped out at the viewers:
We learned about honesty and integrity. That the truth matters. That you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules. And success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square.
I have seen firsthand that being President does not change who you are – it reveals who you are.
He believes that when you work hard and do well and walk through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.
Campaign politics so often hinge on moments – and moments are what Twitter specializes in. Twitter doesn’t only capture moments, it puts them on a pedestal, it gives them biggest megaphone that has ever existed, and it attaches them to our friends, our peers, and the voices we respect enough to follow.
TV is still a powerful mode of content delivery, but the chatter on Twitter makes the pundits obsolete before they can even get to their microphones. And even the major stations rely on Twitter to enhance their coverage and push their message.
Facebook has made strong claims to its relevance during this campaign, but it doesn’t drive or capture the emotion-of-moment like Twitter can. Facebook is a place where we hang out with friends and family. Talking about politics there just makes the whole conversation awkward.
Google has talked a lot about the importance of YouTube, which has been livestreaming both conventions. It certainly plays a large role, but it’s more of a broadcast medium than a zone of interaction. No matter how hard Google tries to sell it, YouTube comments aren’t going to win any hearts and minds.
Twitter, on the other hand, is for interests. The people you follow are the people you would be happy to debate in the lunch hall. You can track hashtags for particular topics and events. You can scroll quickly past a tweet that isn’t providing nutrition. You can skip right to relevance and slake your thirst for instant context and community.
On Twitter, you are part of the conversation, part of the political process, creator and consumer of your own campaign narrative. Even though not every voter is on Twitter – it has only 140 million users worldwide – the influencers are. And yes, that was also true of the 2008 election. But not on this scale, not with this emotional force, and not, by any means, to the extent where you could sensibly claim that 140 characters can swing an election.
On the evidence we’ve seen in this campaign so far, that last statement still seems extreme. But it is not far-fetched. Romney’s moment in the spotlight last week was overshadowed not so much by an old man on stage gibbering to an empty chair, but by a barrage of tweets that buried the former Governor under their enormous collective weight. Twitter drove the discussion that night and predicted the headlines of the next minute’s news. Twitter was as much part of the story as it was the story itself. And if an election can turn on a bead of sweat, it can at least pirouette on a perfectly placed post.