Move over, Obama; Twitter had a big night too

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 7, 2012 3:16am EST

People take pictures as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks after winning the U.S. presidential election, in Chicago, Illinois, REUTERS/John Gress

People take pictures as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks after winning the U.S. presidential election, in Chicago, Illinois,

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama called it - in less than 140 characters.

Around 11:15 pm EST, just as the networks were beginning to call the race in his favor, Obama took to Twitter to proclaim himself the winner over Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

"This happened because of you. Thank you," Obama tweeted.

That the president would take his message to Twitter before taking the stage in Chicago underscored the tremendous role social media platforms like Twitter played in the 2012 election.

Minutes later, with the race called in his favor, Obama tweeted again.

"We're all in this together. That's how we campaigned, and that's who we are. Thank you. -bo."

Through the course of a long and bitter presidential campaign, Twitter often served as the new first rough draft of history.

Top campaign aides used the Internet tool to snipe at each other, the candidates used it to get out their messages and political reporters used it to inform and entertain.

On Election Night, the tweets were flowing.

By 10 p.m. EST, with the race still up for grabs, Twitter announced it had broken records.

There were more than 31 million election-related tweets on Tuesday night, making Election Night "the most tweeted about event in U.S. political history," said Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz. Between 6 p.m. and midnight EST, there were more than 23 million tweets.

Horwitz noted the previous record was 10 million, during the first presidential debate on October 3.

"Twitter brought people closer to almost every aspect of the election this year," Horwitz said. "From breaking news, to sharing the experience of watching the debates, to interacting directly with the candidates, Twitter became a kind of nationwide caucus."

In the moments following Obama's win, Twitter was in a frenzy, with a peak of 327,000 tweets a minute.

Another tweet from Obama, one that read: "Four more years" and showed a picture of him hugging his wife, became the most retweeted tweet in the history of the site.

'FIRST TWITTER ELECTION'

Love it or hate it, Twitter and its role in politics appears to be here to stay.

For Rob Johnson, campaign manager for Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry's failed presidential run, Twitter "changed the dynamic this cycle and will continue to play a bigger role in years to come."

"We no longer click refresh on websites or wait for the paper boy to throw the news on our porch," Johnson said. "We go to Twitter and learn the facts before others read it."

The 2012 race was the first where Twitter played such an important role. Top campaign advisers like Romney's Eric Fehrnstrom and Obama's David Axelrod engaged in Twitter battles through the year.

With many political reporters and campaign staff on Twitter and Facebook, social media websites were often the first place news broke. Some top news stories were kept alive or thrust into the headlines after becoming hot topics on Twitter.

"It was one heckuva echo chamber," Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said in an email.

Johnson said Twitter was the driving force behind some of the year's biggest political news stories.

"The twitterverse shapes the news and public opinion," Johnson said. "The Internet is truly a real and powerful tool in politics."

In future elections, candidates and their campaign staffs will have to include social media as another battleground, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said.

"This was the first Twitter election and social media is now fully a part of our election mechanics," Simmons said. "Going forward candidates must have an aggressive social media strategy if they want to win."

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

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