Road to Obama's victory in 2 minutes
02:43 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

2012 has been called the Year of the Twitter Election

More than 10 million tweets were sent during the first presidential debate

At least six "Big Bird" accounts still exist

CNN  — 

Although 2012 was championed as the year of “The Twitter Election,” the Twitterverse turned out to be a cold, cruel place.

Mistakes became memes. Blunders gave birth to parody accounts with huge followings. And at least in Paul Ryan’s case, good looks became a talking point.

Key moments in the campaign were documented by the creation of Twitter parody accounts, and many were not amused.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that sentiment on social media of both presidential candidates remained consistently negative even if mainstream media coverage was positive.

The study was conducted during a one-month period that included both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

“The differences raise a question about whether social media may make what Americans hear about politics more negative and may make it harder for political actors, particularly those trailing in the polls, to alter the media narrative,” the study said.

Humor has always played a fundamental role in politics, at times creating serious commentary around important topics. Comedians Jon Stewart and Chris Rock have proved this for years. “Saturday Night Live” thrives during election seasons. Twitter, however, allows practically anyone to rise from obscurity to online comedic celebrity.

The question then becomes, does it matter?

The landscape where social media, politics and humor converge is an area of burgeoning research. Kristen Landreville, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Wyoming, has studied the effects of political humor.

The 25 funniest tweets of the first debate

She found that programs like “The Daily Show” influence people’s knowledge and cynicism about politics and their use of other political media.

“I would be comfortable making the connection and saying that political humor on social media will also have effects on people,” she said via e-mail. “One reason is because social media is meant to connect people, whether politically like-minded or not.”

Landreville cautions that there is little, if any, social scientific research on these areas. Although it is too early to make conclusions, the anecdotal evidence is out there.

In an article on political humor and its unique ability humanize and criticize, Landreville said that oftentimes, the humor focuses on more trivial matters, such as a politician’s appearance or personality.

Perhaps Landreville was predicting the eventual creation of the accounts @PaulRyanCowlick or @RyansPeak2012, which continues to post messages but rarely refers to Ryan or his appearance.

Landreville said humor tends to relax our guard while personal or emotional messages from family or friends are processed in more meaningful ways.

“You get to see that post from Aunt Betty about how Mitt Romney will save America from socialism, AND you get to see the post from your college roommate about how Obamacare has helped his family. Will you be influenced by these posts? Perhaps,” Landreville wrote.

But with humor, you’re laughing and perhaps being persuaded or influenced, even subconsciously, because you’re not critically analyzing the Internet meme.

Still, the effects of the political humor may be integrated into your political attitudes, Landreville said.

And instead of spreading your message one person at a time, thanks to social media, one message is spreading to hundreds or thousands of people at a time.

The first 2012 presidential debate was the most-tweeted-about political event since Twitter’s creation in 2008, with more than 10 million posts. When the feathers settled, @SilentJimLehrer, @FiredBigBird and a host of other characters had been born. Afterward, serious conversation about federal funding to PBS and whether it was necessary flooded social media.

While we wait for things to play out, here is the 2012 campaign in 27 tweets. If unable to see the slideshow below, click here.