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Social nets create election's biggest memes

Twitter, Facebook guide discussion around Big Bird, an empty chair and 'the 47%'

November 8, 2012 06:01 AM ET

Computerworld - The 2012 presidential campaign was focused on serious stuff -- a sluggish world economy, the need for jobs and healthcare.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't room for fun. That's where social networks came in, and their users quickly seized on verbal slip-ups, comical photos and missteps by the candidates. Who would have thought a major player in the 2012 presidential election would be Big Bird? Or that an empty chair would give rise to photos, hashtags and videos?

It was all part of the presidential campaign in an era when social media have influenced, and forever changed, politics.

Big Bird will work
The Big Bird meme ricocheted around the Web right after the first presidential debate last month.

"I think what we saw was people using social media, primarily Twitter, to pick out particular catchy phrases or concepts and run with them," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "This would then get magnified by retweets and break out into the more mass media arena, like blogs and then actual news stories. The result was an echo chamber that pushed these messages far and wide."

Social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ played a new and much more critical role in this latest election. People were quick to tweet when the wanted to praise candidates they supported or deride those that they opposed.

When the candidates did or said something that could be turned into a quick laugh ... well that became a tweet, or a Facebook comment and, in some cases, a meme.

One of the most popular memes of the presidential election was the towering yellow bird from Sesame Street.

During the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, one of the most-tweeted moments of the night came when Romney said he loves Big Bird but would still cut funding to PBS.

Shortly thereafter, Twitter reported that there were 17,000 tweets per minute about "Big Bird" and 10,000 tweets per minute about "PBS."

Facebook wasn't left out, either. Images of Sesame Street's Big Bird holding a sign that reads, "Will work for food" quickly began showing up on the social network. Big Bird was a big meme for weeks to follow, inspiring hashtags, a myriad of Big Bird-related photos and even a Save Big Bird page on Facebook.

However, if Big Bird was an odd meme for an election, an empty chair got its own share of viral attention.



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