Did you watch Tuesday night's presidential debate on one screen or two? If you answered "Why the heck would I need two screens to watch TV?," then you missed half the show. The rest of it was on Twitter, where the nation's journalists, comedians, politicians and armchair pundits were busy dissecting, fact-checking, spinning and riffing on every word the candidates uttered, almost as fast as they could utter it. If you haven't experienced this for yourself, you're probably tempted to dismiss it as noise. And perhaps it would be, if it weren't so influential.
If you've watched or read a news report about the debates this week, chances are it was shaped in some way by Tuesday night's sprawling, real-time, Twitter-hosted conversation. For those tuning in without a second screen, Mitt Romney's awkward remarks about trying to find qualified female applicants for Massachusetts cabinet jobs might have induced a quick cringe. But if you were simultaneously logged into Twitter on your laptop or smartphone, you knew within moments that the phrase "binders full of women" was going to haunt him. "Romney's binders" parody accounts popped up and attracted thousands of followers, a "Binders Full of Women" Tumblr page made the rounds, and the hashtag #bindersfullofwomen rocketed to the top of the site's trending topics list. Users who clicked on it were greeted with a promoted tweet from the Obama campaign urging them to donate, as the campaign rushed to capitalize on the meme.
Within hours Romney's "women problem" had resurfaced as a campaign issue, with the Boston Phoenix fact-checking his claims about hiring women and The New York Times weighing in on how they could swing the election.