During the 2012 US presidential debates, more than five million connected viewers turned to social media to respond to the broadcast and talk politics with one another. Using a mixed-methods approach, this study examines the prevalence of humor and its relationship to visibility among connected viewers live-tweeting the debates. Based on a content analysis of tweets and accounts, we estimate that approximately one-fifth of the messages sent during the debates consisted of strictly humorous content. Using retweet frequency as a proxy for visibility, we found a positive relationship between the use of humor and the visibility of individual tweets. Not only was humor widespread in the discourse of connected viewers, but humorous messages enjoyed greater overall visibility. These findings suggest a strategic use of humor by political actors seeking greater shares of attention on social media.

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Published in Social Media + Society, v. 4, issue 1, p. 1-12.

© The Author(s) 2018

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).

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The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported in part by USC Annenberg Graduate Fellowships and the Annenberg Innovation Lab.