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Obama wins TPM statfest. So what?

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In the world of meaningless statistics (see many NBA, NFL, MLB, and other sports stats), TPM has emerged as a new faux arbiter of political reality. You don’t grok TPM? That’s “Tweets Per Minute,” knuckleheads.

From @gov, Twitter’s government and politics team:

A new record political moment on Twitter: @barackobama drives 52,757 Tweets per minute. Over 9 million Tweets sent about #DNC2012.

And PCMag enthusiastically passes on Twitter’s parsing of the tweets by one-liners in the speech:

• 43,646: “I’m no longer just the candidate, I’m the President.”
• 39,002: “I will never turn medicare into a voucher.”
• 38,597: Discussing Medicare
• 37,694: “We don’t think government can solve all our problems.”
• 34,572: Quips about the Olympics and “Cold War mind warp.”

And more tweet stats are offered as well without an ounce of analysis what they mean — if anything.

Then there’s Mashable, running with this hed over a video of Michelle Obama’s speech:

Watch the Michelle Obama Video That Destroyed Twitter

So what if Michelle toppled the Twitterverse? Brett Smiley at NYMag.com gets it:

The [@gov] team added that [Obama’s] line, “I’m no longer just the candidate, I’m the President,” spurred the second biggest TPM spike for Obama with 43,646 tweets per minute, while “I will never turn Medicare into a voucher” scored the third highest with 39,002 TPM. The peak figure translates to almost 880 tweets per second, or total nonsense if you don’t believe Twitter has a role in shaping people’s attitudes about political moments. [emphasis added]

What meaning do these tweet counts actually have? For example, I’d like to know:

• What is the political affiliation of the senders? The receivers?
• Who reads them? With what persuasive impact, if any?
• What research demonstrates that TPM is a meaningful measure of public opinion?
• Where’s the research that examines political speeches before and after the advent of Twitter and demonstrates whether speechwriters are adjusting to write easily retweetable one-liners? (After all, television had its “write for the soundbite” impact on political speech.)
• What percentages of Obama’s TPM represent Twitterer authorial bloviating (a technical term, of course), journalistic accounting of this is what’s happening right now, and a commingling of the two?

So a lot of people can type with their thumbs. So a lot of people believe political discourse can be enhanced 140 characters at a time. So Twitter has some really good marketers who created a statistical media darling.

Bah. Quantity of anything is never a warranty of its quality.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

September 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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