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Barack Obama Gains 37,000+ Followers Since Friday's #Compromise Dip; Big Whoop

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, August 1 2011

It was big "news" on Friday in social media circles: "Obama Loses 36,000+ Followers in #Compromise Campaign," Mashable headlined it. Fox News, The Daily News, The New York Post and plenty of other media outlets repeated the story, all repeating the claim that a one-third of one-percent drop in Obama's 9.4 million Twitter following was a big deal.

So, how about a headline for today: Obama is up 37,000 followers on Twitter since that dip on Friday. Surely this must mean something, but what, oh-great-social-media-gurus?

The truth is, neither the dip nor the rise in Obama's daily Twitter count should be taken as meaning much of anything. Like most Twitter celebrities, the @barackobama account is a hollow signifier. Millions of people sign up for the service, note a few familiar names (many of whom are promoted via Twitter's suggested user list), and then rarely use the service again. If someone has millions of "followers" it doesn't mean that all of those people are truly a) paying attention or b) in love with the person they chose to follow. A one-day dip of one-third of one-percent is about as meaningful as a one-day rise.

Had Obama continued to lose followers on Twitter, that might well be an important sign. I suppose that could still occur over the next few days and weeks as the debt ceiling deal plays out. But the flurry of stories about his supposed Twitter #fail this weekend were just one more example of how the political media still mostly fails to report on online politics with any degree of nuance or understanding. (And don't get me started on The Daily Caller's idiotic attack on The New York Times' Jen Preston for asking the White House what #hashtag it was using. Preston's recap here is well worth a read.)

In terms of Obama's ability to actually use Twitter to mobilize supporters and coordinate messaging, it makes sense to pay attention not just to his titular account, but to the dozens of state and local accounts run by Organizing for America staff. A quick spot check, including a look at accounts for the states of California, New York and Florida, showed no dip in support at all. These accounts, which tend to run in the mid-four-figures, are where Obama's real base of activists (plus opposition researchers) is likely to be found, since you really have to be a true politics junkie or hack to follow OFA locally. So far, none of the Republican candidates have anything close to OFA's online infrastructure in the states.

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