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Mitt Romney's plan to cut Big Bird's funding sparks Twitter frenzy

October 04, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski
  • Twitter traffic generated during the presidential debate in Denver.
Twitter traffic generated during the presidential debate in Denver. (Twitter )

There were plenty of ruffled feathers over Republican challenger Mitt Romney's remark during Wednesday night's presidential debate that he would cut public funding for the Public Broadcasting Service -- and effectively rob Big Bird of his taxpayer-subsidized nest egg.

"I'm sorry Jim. I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS," Romney said, when asked by moderator Jim Lehrer what non-essential items he would trim from the federal budget. "I'm gonna stop other things," Romney said. "I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too."

The remark immediately reverberated through social networks, sparking 350,000 tweets (or about 17,000 per minute).

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Ardent supporters of the popular Sesame Street character (and public broadcasting) took to Twitter to create parody accounts such as @SadBigBird and @FiredBigBird the latter of whom quipped before the account was suspended: "Mitt Romney favors Wall Street over Sesame Street." 

By morning, the remark emerged as an Internet meme -- a cultural event that gets reinterpreted in commentary and parody online. 

One image depicted Big Bird seated on the front stoop, next to two children, holding a sign declaring, "Will work for food." Another close-up of the feathered Muppet appeared against the caption: "Big bird is sad. We're all sad."

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Even President Obama, faulted by  political analysts  for failing to go on the offensive last night against his challenger, seized on Romney's remark, tweeting: "Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird."

The big winner coming out of Denver was Twitter.

In the 24 hours leading up to the debate, there were twice as many tweets about the impending verbal sparring match than about all of the debates in 2008, according to Twitter.

The social network said the 90-minute debate was the most tweeted-about political event in U.S. history (remember, this is Internet time: Twitter is just 6 years old). Users posted 10.3 million tweets about the Romney-Obama match up, eclipsing the 9.5 million tweets from the days-long Democratic National Convention early last month. In August, the Republican National Convention produced less than half that many tweets -- 4 million, according to Twitter.

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Big Bird wasn't the remark that sparked the most reaction, however. That happened when Romney suggested a debate topic, and moderator Jim Lehrer quipped, “Let’s not.” That phrase generated 158,690 tweets per minute.

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