Social nets create election's biggest memes

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

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During the Republican National Convention, actor, director and Romney supporter Clint Eastwood gave a speech in which he "debated" with an empty chair meant to symbolize Obama. The performance raised eyebrows and gave rise to a meme, as a slew of comments, photos and videos tied to the hashtag "emptychair" went viral.

Clint Eastwood and Chairy
The Clint Eastwood and a chair meme went viral after the actor appeared at the Republican National Convention. (Image: Tumblr)

Another big meme was inspired by a moment in the second presidential debate, when Romney said that he had been given "binders full of women" when he took over as governor of Massachusetts and was looking for candidates to fill cabinet seats.

Twitter and Facebook immediately lit up with jokes and animated images of women stuffed into binders, women wearing binders and binders with names of famous women. And "bindersfullofwomen" quickly became a trending hashtag on Twitter.

Other memes that became popular among Democrats included "horses and bayonets" and "47%." But Republicans connected with jabs of their own, taking on Obama for the awkward phrase he used during a political rally when he tried to make the point that entrepreneurs rely on infrastructure put in place by the government when they work to establish their businesses. Quickly, "you didn't build that" and "we built that" began trending on Twitter and popping up on Facebook.

"Social media really came into its own during this election cycle," said Olds. "It was heavily used by pretty much everyone who had a dog in the fight. At the end of the day, I think it was probably more valuable as a mechanism to throw red meat to supporters than as a tool to help persuade undecided or mildly committed voters."

Did memes that were so popular on social media sway how people voted? Maybe not, but they did fire up the candidates' supporters.

"I think the memes mostly gave the masses a rallying cry they could shout to their pals," Olds said. "They might have had a marginal impact on turnout, pulling some of the more casual voters into actually voting. The successful social media message is one that is seen and gets spread around."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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