Social media and political news reporting

December 12, 2011

If you haven’t heard about Mitt Romney’s $10,000 bet, chances are you weren’t on Twitter during the Iowa GOP Candidates Debate on 10 December and the days following.

Mitt’s bet is a good example of how social media is changing political news reporting. Since the dawn of time, political reports have listened hard for good (“gotcha”) quotes and sound bites that sum up a debate, announcement or interview. Now, social media is changing the way journalists pick their sound bites, by amplifying certain quotes and giving journalists a real-time gauge of public sentiment.

Blake Hounshell - Mitt Romney 10k

Tweet via @blakehounshell – managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

Within minutes of the fated bet, Twitter started buzzing. While analysts mostly ignored it, the social media response was strong. The Twitter hashtag #What10kbuys was added alongside a lot of the #IowaDebate and #GOPDebate posts. Eventually, it started trending in its own right.

Social media amplifies

The Mitt Romney #What10kbuys debacle shows that social media can amplify your message to all corners. A few years ago, Romney’s comment would have gone reported in a nfew newspapers, for a single day. The social media reaction to Romney has shown that what you say as a candidate will get widely promoted — and most of it is outside your control.

The amplification is not what you say about your campaign, it’s what everyone else is saying. It allows an undercurrent of sentiment to become mainstream — like the strong response that was appalled by the cavalier way that Romeny made a $10,000 bet as though it were a dollar-bet.

Another good example is the video of Rick Perry appearing to be drunk at while giving a speech. This video went viral, although the speech and event itself was fairly minor and uninteresting.

Social media scrutinises

After  the debate, the Democrats tweeted:

DNC: We want to know #what10Kbuys for you and your family. #IowaDebate

This helped not only to spread Romney’s comments further, but helped ensure that even people who weren’t watching the debate or following the GOP primaries have heard of it. What’s more, Romney’s defenders on Twitter have kept the hashtag going by trying to use it to attack Obama and the Democrats — leaving confused people days later to try to find out what it is all about.

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