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Tracking a “Baby Killer:” Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s Heath Care Burn Sparks a Tweet Firestorm [Update]

Tracking a “Baby Killer:” Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s Heath Care Burn Sparks a Tweet Firestorm [Update]
baby killer

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During the final hurdles of the heatlh-care bill last night, tensions spilled over as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) railed against his own Amendment, the anti-abortion “Stupak Amendment,” which Republicans tried to use as a tool to quickly overturn the just-passed health care reform bill late Sunday evening. But it wasn’t the political maneuvering or even the hard-grinding gears of government that made Stupak’s speech the most buzzed about moment of the historic bill’s passage. It was the heckling of a yet-to-be-named Republican barking “baby killer” at Stupak–ironic, considering the representative is one of the most pro-life Democrats in the House.

Like Joe Wilson’s “you lie!” outburst, “baby killer” instantly became the talk of the town, especially on the Internet. But how does such a trivial moment–the second-long shout of an enraged audience member–become water-cooler talk over the century-long fight of passing health care? How quickly does it spread online?

What started with Wolf Blitzer’s giddy reporting of the “baby killer” scream quickly spread from CNN to the Web, where Twitter pages and Google searches gobbled up the story. On Twitter, “baby killer” rapidly grew in popularity, first showing up on TweetStats minutes after the outburst. Between 11:30 p.m. EST and a quarter after midnight, “baby killer” became one of the most popular trends on Twitter, only behind HRC, Congress, and C-Span:

twitter

While it was difficult to track the total number of tweets, real-time search results during this

time piled up in the thousands (this is only over the short period since I started searching):

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twitter

On Google Trends, it took only 2 hours for “baby killer” to top hot searches, and by midnight,

it was second only to “what is the health care reform bill” on Google’s hot topics:

baby killer

baby killer

Oddly, by 1:45 a.m., “baby killer” had disappeared from TweetStats and Twitter trends; during that same time, though, it remained a top search on Google. Does this mean Twitter removes trends from its Web site? Does it erase certain “popular topics by the minute” on its home page? Twitter didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.

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From CNN to the Web, the smallest moments of our news day can flare up into the most popular topics across the U.S. Aided by social media, the Joe Wilson-like moment shot across the Internet, in what’s replaced the Butterfly Effect with the Twitter Effect. The blogosphere too contributed to “baby killer” trends. By 11:35 last night, there were only 11 mentions of “baby killer.” This morning there was close to 3,000.

Plus one, now.

UPDATE: According to reports, congressman Randy Neugebauer yelled the epithet. We’ve be watching his Twitter page to see how many new followers (currently 109 following, 638 followers) befriend the baby-killer-heckler, and how many times YOU JUST GOT NEUGE’D is searched on Google and YouTube.

So far, he’s already ignited a Tweet firestorm since the story broke at 2pm, leaping past “baby killer” within the last hour:

And on Google, he’s skyrocketing up the charts:

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Neugebauer has gained 100 friends on Twitter as well. No word on enemies though.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.

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