Presidential debate breaks record as most Tweeted about political event

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney clash in first Presidential #Debate in Denver, ColoradoTwitter launched Twitter.com/#debates as the first US Presidential debate kicked off last night and quickly became the most Tweeted political event on record as more than 10.3 million Tweets were sent in the 90 minutes.

The media declared Mitt Romney as the winner over President Obama in Denver although some had it down as Big Bird from Sesame Street.

The big yellow bird trended on Twitter as Romney said he would cut funding for US public service broadcaster PBS.

Romney said that he was not prepared to “to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for”, which sent #BigBird quickly trending on Twitter.

This speedily led to Big Bird and public broadcasting supporters taking to Twitter to create a string of parody accounts such as @SadBigBird@BlGBlRD,  @FiredBigBird and @BigBirdRomney among others.

The Twitter account for @BIGBIRD let its feelings known with its first tweet, which has since been shared on Twitter almost 60,000 times.

Later @BigBird Tweeted today’s show was being bought to you by the numbers 4 and 7 — referring to Romney’s comments about the 47% of Americans, which gave Team Obama a big target in its recent ‘For All’ social media campaign.

Last night the candidates clashed over domestic policy, and citizens all over came to Twitter to share their comments and follow millions of real-time responses from pundits, campaigns, and fellow voters.

The 10.3 million Tweets eclipsed the 9.5 million Tweets that were sent about events at the #DNC2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. There the Democrats had already more than doubled the total number of Tweets from the entire Republican National Convention.

To give you an idea of the scale of Twitter buzz look at these numbers. During his acceptance speech at the #DNC2012 on September 6 Obama set a new record for political moments on Twitter with 52,756 Tweets per minute. The high point last night was 158, 690 TPM (click to expand image). 

The moments on Twitter sparking the most tweets centred on the discussion about Medicare and vouchers and Big Bird.

According to Twitter as the evening proceeded, several other trends emerged. “While @BarackObama and @MittRomney sparred over details of their respective economic plans, viewers at home attempted to keep up with the statistics and promises from each of them. Several Twitter accounts were dedicated to fact-checking throughout the evening, and fact-checking Tweets saw a great number of retweets.”

It was the emergence of tall yellow Muppet Big Bird though that is likely to be one of the most memorable moments of the first Presidential debate and one Romney probably could have done without.

Twitter noted there were more than a quarter million Tweets mentioning Big Bird, following Romney’s statement that he wants to cut Federal funding for PBS, which airs Sesame Street.

The emergence of Big Bird highlights again the unexpected element that social media can throw into a campaign.

The impact might be fleeting, but it might have more resonance in the longer term as November fast approaches. We’ll have to wait and see.