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Thursday, October 18, 2012

During Heated Debate, Twitter Slows Down

President Obama and Mitt Romney may have stepped up the intensity of their arguments on Tuesday night in the second of their three debates. But on Twitter at least, no records were broken, and the measured response was more mellow.

The first debate on Oct. 4 in Denver set a record for activity on Twitter for a political event, with users of the social network site generating more than 10.3 million messages. But according to data released by Twitter's @gov team, users spent more of the debate on Tuesday sitting on their thumbs. More than 7.2 million messages were written last night in reference to the presidential debate, candidates and related terms, a 30 percent decline from the first debate.

Twitter also released its tally of the moments in the debate that generated the greatest number of messages per minute. More than 109,000 per minute were published about the moment when an undecided voter asked Mr. Romney a question about ill egal immigration.

As with the candidates' first meeting, the most Twitter activity did not match the issue that appeared to drive the most postdebate discussion. Although the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, was the subject of some the debate's strongest exchanges, it produced only the fifth most active moment on Twitter, with more than 105,000 per minute.

What was possibly the debate's most popular subject on social media also registered lower on Twitter's measurement of the most activity. Mr. Romney's explanation that he had sought qualified women for cabinet positions when he was governor of Massachusetts inspired Tumblr and Facebook pages devoted to “Binders Full of Women” even before the debate was over. But the discussion of equal pay for women only produced 104,000 Twitter messages per minute, a pattern similar to Mr. Romney's “Big Bird” statement in the first debate, which produced fewer postings per minute than many of the debate's less lighthearted moments.

While Mr. Romney's “binders full of women” quip produced less activity in real time on Twitter, it was one of the most popular searches during the debate, according to Google. The search engine released raw data showing that “binders full of women” was the No. 3 rising search between 8:45 and 10:45 p.m. in the Eastern time zone. But it was topped by the question, “Who is winning the debate?”, which was also a top rising search on Google during the first debate.

If you are feeling lucky and find the right answer to that question on the search engine, please let us know.