Obama, Romney debate (and Big Bird) generate 10 million tweets

Last night's initial showdown between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the most-tweeted political event in U.S. history.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
2 min read
A chart showing the flood of tweets generated during last night's presidential debate. Twitter

The initial presidential debate last night between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney generated more than 10 million tweets, making it the most tweeted political event in U.S. history.

In a blog post issued early this morning, Twitter recounted the issues -- and quips -- that got users tweeting the most. Those ranged from questions about fact-checking to discussions about Medicare and Obamacare to general dissatisfaction with moderator Jim Lehrer.

Among certain circles, the politics of the debate were secondary to Romney's suggestion that to help reduce spending, he would propose cutting the PBS budget, impacting one of America's most beloved figures.

Perhaps the biggest star of the first presidential debate was 'Sesame Street' character Big Bird. Twitter user @FiredBigBird

"Of course, the evening's real breakout star was a certain tall yellow Muppet," Twitter wrote on its blog. "There were more than a quarter million Tweets mentioning Big Bird, following Governor Romney's statement that he wants to cut Federal funding for PBS, the Muppet characters' TV channel, even despite his stated fondness for the Sesame Street character. Ardent supporters of Big Bird (and public broadcasting) took to Twitter to create parody accounts such as @SadBigBird, @BigBirdRomney and @FiredBigBird.

Although it's certainly impressive that the debate inspired so many tweets, making it the most-tweeted political event in U.S. history, it's also true that Twitter's user base is growing every day. And at the same time, other events -- the Super Bowl, the Olympics, major concerts, and so on -- have generated even more. Twitter likes to trumpet numbers like tweets-per-minute, and total tweets, for events, but those figures don't really tell us much.

Still, for anyone with a column in TweetDeck or any other Twitter client dedicated to #debates this evening, there was little doubt that something extraordinary was going on. As I tweeted early in the evening, "Have you watched the #debates feed? Wow. Indy 500 drivers can't move that fast."