Presidential elections are pretty much made for Twitter, as news media, analysts, pundits, bloggers and ordinary citizens generate streams of easily-condensed information and opinion to tweet and re-tweet. With important news emerging in small increments, minute-by-minute, Twitter might actually be the ideal medium to track election results.
The election certainly generated a huge volume of Twitter traffic. Twitter announced that by 10 p.m. EST Tuesday night (before the election had been called) there were already 31 million tweets relating to the election, according to Reuters, and in the six-hour period from 6 p.m. to midnight, there were 23 million tweets. After the networks called the race for Obama, Twitter peaked at 327,000 tweets per minute, and a victory tweet from Obama’s own account, showing him hugging his wife with the caption “Four more years,” is the most-retweeted tweet ever, Reuters reports. Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horowitz described the election as “the most tweeted about event in U.S. political history.”
But the election also highlighted some of the issues surrounding accuracy and credibility on Twitter, which has seen repeated instances of users (deliberately or accidentally) spreading rumors and misinformation, which get picked up and further disseminated by over-trusting news media. Thus around 9 p.m. ET a rumor spread on Twitter that NBC News was declaring Elizabeth Warren the victor in her race against Massachusetts incumbent Senator Scott Brown -- 47 minutes before NBC actually issued the projection. The rumor gained so much traction on Twitter that NBC anchor Brian Williams was prompted to respond to it during his live election broadcast, cautioning viewers that NBC hadn’t in fact projected Warren as the winner.
It turns out this premature rumor resulted from a single, mistaken tweet by a Twitter user identified as @CAPCongress -- actually Alan Rosenblatt, who was tweeting on behalf of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Rosenblatt later explained that he had misread the NBC News Web site.
Nor was this the only Twitter-enabled screwup on election night. The Republican National Committee saw one of its last-minute get-out-the-vote promotions hijacked, or at least derailed, through unwanted association with white supremacists, the Washington Post reports. After the RNC bid for the keyword “vote,” Twitter’s promoted tweets platform placed its promoted tweet in Twitter streams for the hashtag #votewhite, which was circulating among some (racist) Twitter users. Nor was the RNC the only one to be thus besmirched: after the RNC ad was hastily removed, CNN Politics and The New York Times also had their promoted tweets mistakenly placed in the #votewhite Twitter stream, presumably because they also bid on the keyword “vote.”