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After Hours

Social Media Seen Intensifying Connection to Debate Topics

Social Media Seen Intensifying Connection to Debate Topics
October 12, 2012 1:48PM

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This isn't the first election to be influenced by the Internet. But with more people endlessly connected to smartphones, computers, tablets or iPods, and millions of people never logging off Facebook, social media are transforming the way information is instantly parsed and winners and losers decided well before the last question of a debate.

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Just as the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney turned Big Bird and Sesame Street into trending Twitter terms, last night's vice presidential match-up might be remembered for doing the same for Eddie Munster and "malarkey."

Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrat, used the PG-rated term in rebuttal to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's attack on the Obama administration's foreign policy.

"With all due respect that's a bunch of malarkey," he said.

Infectious Smirking

Not only was it trending, but tech Web sites were quick to notice that when searching the term on Twitter, a promoted message from Obama's re-election campaign pops up.

Other popular hash tags included #thingsthatmakebidenlaugh, a reference to the veeps frequent snickering as his opponent spoke, and more obvious ones like #MarthaRaddatz, the debate moderator and, naturally, #VPDebate.

Biden's smirk for much of the debate led Republicans to accuse him of arrogance and commentators to take note.

"Biden's smirk is infectious. I'm starting to laugh too. Maybe this is a deliberate cunning strategy," tweeted CNN talk show host Piers Morgan.

The Republican National Committee quickly posted a YouTube video compilation of Biden on split screen while a stone-faced Ryan talked about serious issues.

Another popular Twitter theme was Ryan's supposed resemblance to Eddie Munster, a character from the '60s sitcom "The Munsters" played by Butch Patrick.

"Let's not let cheap jokes about Paul Ryan looking like Eddie Munster distract us from the fact that he is a sociopath," teased humorist Andy Borowitz.

Dems for Progress tweeted "Eddie Munster doesn't want to take your Medicare but Paul Ryan does."

During the debate, numerous commentators live-tweeted or live-blogged and viewers traded observations, opinions and wisecracks about the candidates' appearance or manner and, of course, who won.

On Facebook, a non-partisan debate drinking game page attracted 160 members. The host, Ron Malmstead, invited participants to have a shot whenever either candidate used terms like terrorism, liberty, cut taxes, pro-life or trillion.

Intensifying Attention

This isn't the first election to be influenced by the Internet. But with more and more people endlessly connected to smartphones, computers, tablets or iPods, and millions of people never logging off Facebook -- even when they're asleep -- social media are transforming the way information is instantly parsed and winners and losers decided well before the last question of a debate.

"Social media certainly are changing the way we watch debates, as well as how we watch television," said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst of digital media and online advertising at the Altimeter Group. "Essentially, viewing has turned into a multiscreen experience."

But does all this add to or distract from our attentiveness to the issues?

"While this can indeed fragment attention, it fragments attention within the context of the debate or program in question," Lieb told us. "Early research indicates this multiscreen experience is additive rather than reductive -- it intensifies rather than diminishes attention and concentration on the debate, or game, or program in question."

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