Has Social Media Turned Election 2012 Into A Joke?

By Megan O'Neill 

Earlier this afternoon I received a phone call from my brother, Nick O’Neill.  He wanted to talk about last night’s Presidential debate, which, he said, had left him feeling more than a little hopeless.  “I know, right?” I agreed.  “They didn’t talk about anything!”  But beyond the reality that neither candidate shed any real light on the issues, my conversation with my brother made me realize that I was also frustrated by the ridiculous joke that the election seems to have turned into on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Like many of you, I’m sure, Nick and I were both following the commentary on Twitter while watching the debate.  As Obama and Romney’s face-off progressed, we watched as our streams erupted with jokes about the poor 25 birds that were killed in a North Dakota oil range, Obama’s “yours is much bigger than mine” comment on Romney’s pension, marriage being the solution to better gun control and, of course, BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN!

Now, I’m not suggesting that this witty Twitter banter wasn’t hilarious—I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have me guffawing throughout the entire debate.  But when it comes down to it, I think it’s a sad state of affairs when the prime takeaway from a presidential debate is a Tumblr blog, a new parody Twitter account with 33,000 followers, and a Facebook page with nearly 300,000 likes…all dedicated to “Binders Full Of Women.”

On Twitter, many people seemed to be treating the debate like a sporting event.  At one point Nick said his stream was even filled with “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!”  And many of those who weren’t tweeting about the debate like it was just another MLB playoff game were racing to get their hilarious joke about Big Bird or binders up before anybody else, so they could rack up the most retweets or be featured in a roundup of the funniest debate tweets.

It’s amusing, but when it comes down to it, this isn’t a sporting event—it’s the future of our country.  Shouldn’t we take this a little more seriously? I’d like to see people tweeting more about the substance of the debates—what they thought about Obama and Romney’s points, whether they agreed with them and why.

At the same time, when I step back and look at the actual content of the debate I don’t really see any substance—I don’t see anything really deserving of commentary.  Could it be that the reason the debates have turned into such a social media funny fest is that the candidates just aren’t giving us anything else to go on?

Or has following the debates on Twitter simply skewed my perspective of what’s going on in the “real world?”  During our conversation, Nick pointed out that “social media amplifies the peanut gallery.”  Being witty and getting lots of retweets and likes is a big part of what social media is all about and, as such, these are the sorts of comments that take over during live events.  Perhaps, because I’ve had one eyeball glued to Twitter I’ve missed out on the deeper, more serious political “bunch of stuff” (which is Irish, for those of you that missed out on the VP Debate).

After mulling over the question, “Has social media turned Election 2012 into a joke?” I’m left with no concrete answer, but with a few possibilities.  Has Twitter caused us to take the election less seriously?  Is the debate meme fest simply a reaction to a lack in substance we’re finding in this year’s election politics?  Or should I take a break from Twitter during next week’s debate?  If you’ve managed to make it through my ramblings this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.