US election 2012: hug photo makes social media history
A photograph of US President Barack Obama embracing his wife Michelle has become the most liked and re-tweeted post ever
by Luke Harding
President Obama posted the image at 0416 GMT, effectively claiming victory over Mitt Romney in the US presidential race. Since then it has been re-tweeted nearly 700,000 times. More than 3.23 million people have liked the image on Facebook, with over 400,000 shares; more than 100,000 today were liking it every hour.
The unprecedented viral success of the post confirmed the role that social media played in the US presidential campaign, and abroad. In the past, election night ended when the losing candidate phoned the winner to concede defeat, with news of the “phone call” promptly leaked to news media.
Obama pinged his tweet soon after the television networks had called victory for him in the crucial swing state of Ohio. It was another two hours and 20 minutes before the president appeared in person and gave his formal victory address to ecstatic supporters in Chicago.
Obama’s photo – which shows him hugging his wife, eyes closed, against a cloudy and even stormy backdrop – has set the standard for future presidential victors. The photo appears to embody the president’s core values: trust, manliness, loyalty, love of family, and possibly even divine favor as well.
The post also gave an opportunity for the rest of the world to congratulate Obama personally. Often in their own languages. And, in a few cases, to tell him what a lousy president he is. “Awful. Ignorant,” Amanda Zahn, of Illinois, wrote on Obama’s Facebook page. Another poster from the same state added acidly: “There goes the US economy.”
The overwhelming majority of non-US posters, however, warmly welcomed the president’s re-election, reflecting the international consensus that a second-term Obama would be far better than Romney. The “hug” photo was shared across continents and time zones, with congratulations pouring in from Namibia, Brazil, Denmark, Chile, Kenya, Italy, Albania, and countless other countries. Several Britons also left their mark; one message read “Well done Sir from England xxxxxxxx” Another Briton keen to share in Obama’s victory was David Cameron. The prime minister tweeted: “Warm congratulations to my friend @BarackObama.” Cameron’s message was re-tweeted a comparatively modest 1,500 times. There was no “LOL” but Cameron added hopefully: “Look forward to continuing to work together.”
Another tweet, sent from Obama’s official account [to his supporters] just before the “hug” image, also clocked up massive traffic, with almost 200,000 retweets. It read: “This happened because of you. Thank you.” There were more than 31 million election-related tweets on Tuesday night, making election night “the most tweeted about event in U.S. political history,” Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz told Reuters.
Spare a thought, meanwhile, for Romney. His last tweet – sent before he accepted defeat in a gracious speech to the Republican faithful – read: “With your help, we will turn our country around and get America back on the path to prosperity.”
Since then his account has been silent.
Luke Harding is an award-winning foreign correspondent with the Guardian. He has reported from Delhi, Berlin and Moscow and has covered wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
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