If Tuesday’s reelection of President Barack Obama seemed ostensibly less remarkable than his historic 2008 win, the occasion was however more significant in social media terms: It was the most tweeted-about political event in U.S. history.
According to Twitter, the social network logged more than 31 million election-related tweets on Tuesday, hitting its peak at more than 300,000 tweets per minute as news outlets around the country called the race for Obama and a flood of re-tweets and armchair commentary followed. The sudden Twitter rush culminated with the president’s “four more years” tweet, which was attached to a picture of the first couple locked in a celebratory embrace. That tweet also set a record, becoming the most re-tweeted Twitter post of all time -- a record formerly held by Justin Bieber.
The landmark tweet underscores the substantial role Twitter has played throughout the presidential race, from the primary debates in 2011 all the way though to the news networks’ up-to-the-minute coverage of election night. Indeed, as President Obama has demonstrated a social-media savvy that far eclipses that of his challenger -- 21 million followers to Mitt Romney’s 1.7 million -- Twitter may become known to the 2012 election what television was to the 1960 race between Kennedy and Nixon. More than half a century later, the idea that a presidential candidate needs to look good on television is simply a given. Similarly, Tuesday’s election will send a message to all future candidates that Twitter know-how is not just an asset to a presidential campaign; it’s a necessity.
“Twitter brought people closer to almost every aspect of the election this year,” Twitter spokesperson Rachael Horwitz told Reuters. “From breaking news, to sharing the experience of watching the debates, to interacting directly with the candidates, Twitter became a kind of nationwide caucus.”
Perhaps even more intriguing than Twitter’s prominence on election night was the fact that the site continued to function properly throughout. As All Things D’s Mike Isaac pointed out, Twitter’s servers were able to handle the abrupt increase in traffic without having to call upon the dreaded Fail Whale, the cute illustration that users see when Twitter is overcapacity. The cartoon whale was a common sight in the early days of Twitter, as the website would frequently crash during its exponential growth.
Just a little before midnight on Tuesday, Doug Bowman, Twitter’s creative director, heralded the absence of Twitter’s once-common emblem of exasperation, proudly tweeting, “R.I.P. Fail Whale.”
Isaac attributes Twitter’s election-night success to the ethos of its founder, Jack Dorsey, who has eschewed bells and whistles in exchange for keeping the site simple, serviceable and functioning. The result is a communication tool that will help frame the conversation for every major event in history, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.
Note to anyone planning a presidential bid in 2016: Start building up those followers now.