RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) - Until this election, presidential debates, and politics in general, were largely spectator sports, officiated by political analysts on the networks and major newspapers.
Now, millions of social networkers jump into the fray, instantly fact-checking, mocking, attacking, cheering, exaggerating and twisting the candidates words.
Anyone with a twitter account can be Candy Crowley.
“It means the mainstream media no longer controls the message,” said Larry Sabato with University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. "You have thousands and thousands of people with their own news media outlet. It’s called Twitter.”
On election day four years ago, there were about 1.8 million tweets. Nowadays, that many tweets are sent every six minutes, twitter reports.
During the 2008 election, Facebook was still largely a college phenomenon, one that Obama embraced, with five times the number of Facebook friends than McCain.
Now there are more than 110,000 political Facebook pages, that company says.
President Obama spent more than $16 million in online advertizing the first few months of this year – double what Romney spent.
Obama has 31 million likes on his Facebook page, Romney less than 10 million.
Words coming out of a candidates mouth can turn into a meme – a much-repeated and often-amplified idea or image – that spreads across the country like a prairie fire.
When Mitt Romney said he had “binders full of women” with resumes that qualified them to serve in his cabinet, the phrase became an instant cyber sensation, effectively lampooning Romney. A democratic political action committee bought the Internet domain name “bindersfullofwomen.com” less than two minutes after the phrase came out of Romney’s mouth.
The week before, it was the laughing Joe Biden meme, chuckling or smiling because 23 million Americans are out of work, as one tweet said.
Sabato said the impact of social media is significant, but it “tends to involve people who already have strong opinions on politics. I don’t know that it changes minds. But I do think it increases enthusiasm and gets people involved to a higher degree than they would otherwise.”
He believes “both sides are using it to great effect . . . I don’t think it necessarily favors either side.”
But a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, shows Democrats are much more likely to use social network sites, and use them for politics, than Independents or Republicans.
Which is why it seems Romney, Ryan and other Republicans wind up the butt of most of the twitter and Facebook memes.
This will be the first national election where social media will play an obviously significant role.
My guess is in three weeks, Obama supporters will be tweeting “We did it!” and Joe Biden will have something to laugh about.
That’s my take . . .