Twitter triumphs on Election Night


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When Barack Obama won the 2008 U.S. presidential election, there were roughly 6 million Twitter users worldwide. Fast-forward four years later and Obama alone touts close to 23 million Twitter followers, with total Twitter users exceeding 140 million across the globe. Political chatter has dominated the social media dialog for months, and as the results of Tuesday's U.S. presidential election began pouring in, the Twitterverse went into overdrive. Twitter users shared more than 31 million election-themed tweets throughout the day, with tweets per minute eclipsing the 65,000 mark at 8:03 pm ET as polls closed in many states, and the Associated Press began calling races in others. Tweets per minute jumped to 69,000 at 9:33 pm after media outlets called presidential races in swing states Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, accelerated to 85,000 at 11:12 pm after pundits called Iowa and exploded to 327,000 at 11:19 after the broadcast news networks announced Obama's re-election.

Voters aren't the only ones making their voices heard on Twitter. Moments before Obama stepped onstage in Chicago to address the nation, he tweeted a celebratory message to his followers that has been re-tweeted close to 750,000 times as of this writing--a new Twitter record. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak all fired up their respective Twitter accounts to congratulate Obama on his win, and Congressional candidates across the U.S. also tweeted to thank voters for their support.

It's impossible to calculate Twitter's impact on modern politics. Not only did candidates across seemingly all levels of government leverage the platform to get their messages out to voters, but campaign staffers tangled with critics, and political pundits and insiders shared perspective and scuttlebutt. Twitter "changed the dynamic this cycle and will continue to play a bigger role in years to come," Rob Johnson, campaign manager for Texas Governor Rick Perry's failed presidential bid, told Reuters. "We no longer click refresh on websites or wait for the paper boy to throw the news on our porch. We go to Twitter and learn the facts before others read it." Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons added that future candidates and staffs must carefully consider Twitter's role in their campaign efforts: "This was the first Twitter election, and social media is now fully a part of our election mechanics," he said. "Going forward, candidates must have an aggressive social media strategy if they want to win."

Even though political discourse is shifting to social media channels, many voters still favor more intimate technologies like old-school text messaging. Mobile messaging services provider Sybase 365 reports that SMS traffic experienced a significant spike between the hours of 6:00 pm and 4:00 am ET Tuesday, peaking at 106,000 messages per second--more than 60 percent higher than usual--around 11:20 pm. Text messaging traffic in battleground state Florida almost doubled at that time, the firm adds. Twitter is the newer and flashier candidate to the mobile messaging throne, but texting's enduring popularity is a valuable reminder of the power of incumbency.--Jason