Just weeks after the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., brought calls from politicians, pundits and members of the public to re-examine the tone we use to engage one another in political debate, it took just one unofficial response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to get the fighting words flowing again.
Nowhere was this seen more clearly than on social channels. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., utilized YouTube to deliver her response to Obama’s speech — separate of the official GOP response from Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — only to see many commenters take to social networks to fire back. Facebook reported that in the hours leading up to Obama’s Tuesday night address, social chatter was more focused on Bachmann — for better or for worse.
WebTrends looked at conversations about the speech across a variety of social media mediums, finding the economy as the leading topic, with education, military matters, innovation and health care all coming in behind the 10,000-plus hits the top topic drew in the 24 hours after Obama’s speech.
CNN’s coverage of the State of the Union looked at Twitter’s trending topics during the speech, using them as a sort of instant analysis of the Obama speech by the public at large. But going beyond a raw number of mentions and actually grasping the tone of what is being said is much more difficult, notes ChicagoNow.com writer Fernando Diaz.
“What was interesting was to see how few people actually cared about the State of the Union,” Diaz writes of the CNN Twitter trend compilation, which showed topics such as the Apple iPad and Katy Perry receiving a higher number of tweets than those mentioning the State of the Union address.
Perhaps political discourse can’t prosper online in less than 140 characters, despite efforts by Republicans and Democrats to flood social media channels before, during and after the speech.
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., posted thoughts on their Facebook accounts during the speech, allowing for a level of access to power that may be changing the game, despite the issues of indifference on one hand and partisan fervor on the other.
Inhofe, like many others, planned ahead for the president’s speech, choosing to go beyond merely disagreeing with the president in his own words, but also putting up links to past Obama speeches or government documents to drive home a point.
While Obama’s campaign successfully used the Internet, and social media specifically, during the 2008 elections, most are willing to admit the Republicans and other political groups have caught up in terms of their ability to use such tools to great effect.
“The Internet is a medium for challengers. It’s a medium to disrupt the existing power structure,” Republican digital media consultant Patrick Ruffini told NPR. “Inherently speaking, a decentralized online movement is going to be frustrating to people who have the power, and the White House is the very definition of power.”
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