The Presidential Debate's Biggest Loser: Big Bird

Image credit: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo

While President Obama and Mitt Romney were trying to tout their economic plans, the social media sphere was massively distracted by a big yellow bird - Big Bird that is.

After Romney said, "I love Big Bird," but that he plans to cut funding for PBS anyhow, social media exploded with tweets about the "Sesame Street" character.

According to Twitter data, the words "Big Bird" were tweeted 17,000 times per minute and "PBS," the channel that airs "Sesame Street," peaked at 10,000 tweets per minute."Big Bird" was also the fourth highest-rising search term on Google.

Romney's comment sparked the hashtag #SaveBigBird, which was trending worldwide, and spawned at least three pro-Big Bird Twitter handles, @BigBird, @BigBirdRomney and @FiredBigBird.

The @BigBird handle, which sent out comments such as, "I guess I'm the 47%…" and, "Even Ernie is mad! :(", had nearly 14,000 followers one hour after the debate ended.

The @FiredBigBird went virtually viral, garnering 2,000 followers in two minutes. One hour after the debate, 16,000 people were following the account.

The @BigBirdRomney account, which had about 7,000 followers an hour after the debate, fired off nearly 50 tweets during the debate.

"Under Mitt #Romney, Sesame Street will become an extension of Wall Street," read one tweet.

"Under Mitt #Romney, Cookie Monster won't receive the care he needs to overcome his addiction," read another.

"Sesame Street" declined to comment on Big Bird's newfound political fame, saying that the show is careful to remain apolitical and noting that Big Bird is only six years old and, thus, does not understand politics.

The deluge of tweets were soon followed by an onslaught of .gifs, Tumblr images and blog posts. But despite the online explosion, Romney's intentions to cut funding to PBS are not new. He often mentions it as an example of how he will cut spending to shore up deficits and bring down the debt.

"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," Romney said at Wednesday's debate. "I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually, [I] like you [moderator Jim Lehrer], too. But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."

Lehrer, who rarely spoke throughout the debate, was also mocked by the Twitterverse, inspiring the Twitter account @SilentJimLeher and propelling the moderator's name into the top trends nationwide.

And while Big Bird and PBS were the big winners - or losers depending on how you look at it - on Twitter, the first presidential debate of was the most tweeted political event in U.S. history.

Shortly after President Obama and Romney left the stage, Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz tweeted, "Tonight's debate was the most tweeted about event in US political history, topping the numbers from the RNC and DNC. #debates."

The debate generated more than 10.3 million tweets to move ahead of the 9.5 million tweets measured across the several days of the Democratic Convention last month and the 4 million tweets of the Republican Convention, according to Twitter Government ( @gov), who track political tweets.