Speaker of the House John Boehner and other GOP members joined Heritage on Twitter attacking the president's budget plan while using his hashtag.

During a 24-hour period starting Wednesday, 53 percent of the tweets using the hashtag were "negative with criticisms of Obama's tax and fiscal policies and the hashtag campaign," according to the social media analyst firm Crimson Hexagon.

Measuring 102,395 tweets, Crimson Hexagon found only 21 percent were positive, while 26 percent were simply "sharing the news" and not taking sides.

"You blinked, and all of a sudden, the Republicans had a response -- in the same platform," Powers says.

"There was this sponsored hashtag from Heritage that was there really quickly, and Republicans in the media and in Congress were responding to it and saying, 'Wait a minute, Obama's not telling the whole story.' And it was happening on Twitter with the hashtag itself becoming sort of the center around which the argument revolves."

And that in-Twitter GOP response was in such stark contrast to the way the right was dominated by Obama's social media operation during the campaign. Typical of that dominance was the fact that even though Romney clearly won the first debate in TV terms over a distracted Obama, the GOP candidate came out the loser when his comments about cutting funding for "Sesame Street" became the object of ridicule and rejection in millions of tweets under such hashtags as #SaveBigBird.

Those anti-Romney hashtags -- which were treated in the press as vox populi even though Team Obama could well have been playing a role in creating and promoting them -- subsequently drove continuing coverage of the debates and the campaigns across all media. Does anyone really know the extent of Obama's social media team in shaping the Twitter conversation around those debates?

That's a lot of power for hashtags, particularly when what little we do know about Twitter says its users are not representative of the American public.

Only 16 percent of those who use the Internet use Twitter, according to "Social Media and Political Engagement," a project of the "Pew Internet & American Life Project" released in October.


And that 16 percent of Internet users leans liberal by a margin of 3 to 2, Democrats versus Republicans. In terms of ideology, it's even further to the left: 5 to 2 "liberal" versus "conservative."

The skew is greatest, not surprisingly, in age, with 32 percent of Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 using Twitter, more than the combined number of the next three older age groups, which range from 30 to 65-plus.


That generational breakout certainly helps explain why Twitter attacks on ABC anchorwoman Diane Sawyer NBC "Today" host Matt Lauer seemed so nasty and focused on age. (Sawyer was pilloried for lack of focus on election night, while Lauer's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage was marred by mispronunciations.) But I didn't see the skewed age of Twitter users mentioned prominently in any of the many mainstream stories on Sawyer and Lauer spurred by the Twitter takedowns.

On Wednesday, the conservatives in Congress showed that they learned something about Twitter from the pasting Romney took in social media.

Now it's time for the press as well to catch up with the unlearned lessons of social media from the 2012 election. It's time to get past the gee-whiz reporting and go inside the numbers, demographics and political operatives trying to manipulate those hashtags. It's time to report on social media in an enlightening and responsible way even as we grope our way through the fog of massive media change in our lives.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com