Social Media and the Presidential Debates: What to Expect

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The 2012 Presidential Debates kick off tonight at 9 p.m. with President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney facing off in Denver. With the debates being broadcast live on C-SPAN, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC — PLUS being live streamed online — it will be hard for anyone with a television or Internet connection to avoid tonight’s political discourse.

Publicly broadcast events like these always spur an online reaction – especially now. Think back to this summer’s Olympics; the Olympic organizers themselves dubbed them the “Social Media Olympics.”  And according to the Pew Research Center, 2012 marks the first time that more than half of all Americans aged 65 and older are online. So how will social media react to the 2012 debates? How will it differ from the 2008 debates? Here are our predictions:

1. Thousands more people will participate in tweeting and Facebooking about the debates. After all, social media has exploded in the past four years. In 2008, Twitter had only 6 million users; now it has 140 million. Over that same time period, Facebook grew from 100 million users to 900 million. Combine those statistics with the fact that 45% of American adults own smartphones, and we have more people actively using social media than ever before.

2. “Obama,” “Romney,” or “debate” will be a trending topic on Twitter. Maybe this is an obvious one, but we’re still pointing it out. Perhaps one of the candidates will even purchase a trending topic – the Romney campaign was the first to do so in September when it promoted #RomneyRyan2012 during the Republican National Convention.
3. Your Facebook feed will be transformed into a stream of political comments from people whose opinions you really don’t care about. Annoying political posts on Facebook have become the norm these days. Everyone has that one Facebook friend who constantly posts inflammatory statuses specifically to start an argument. Fear not! Lifehacker has put together a helpful post so you can hide these people from your News Feed.

4. GIFs celebrating either candidates’ gaffes will run amuck. The GIF animation bandwagon is another aspect of social media that has recently exploded. President Obama’s social media team has even created a campaign Tumblr with dozens of Obama GIFs. We feel pretty confident the GIF creators of the Internet will find plenty of clips from tonight’s debate to keep us entertained.
How else do you think social media will react to tonight’s first round of debates? We’ll find out soon enough!

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