It’s no Super Bowl, but it’s still impressive.
As far as U.S. Senate hearings go, former Federal Bureau of Investigations director James Comey’s questioning on Russian election interference and his interactions with President Donald Trump was an extremely popular event.
Across the country, people were packing into bars before noon, crowding around office televisions and arriving before dawn outside the hearing to snag a seat to watch. Even the national broadcast television networks aired the Senate hearing.
And many of those who were watching or following the news were using Twitter as a backchannel to comment on what was unfolding in D.C.
Some 4.7 million unique tweets (not including retweets) mentioned “Comey” yesterday, the most common keyword associated with the hearing, according to Trends data from Keyhole, a social media measuring company. That’s pretty impressive, given that the head of the FBI isn’t typically a household name.
By Twitter’s count, just from 7 am to 1:30 pm yesterday, there were 3.6 million tweets discussing the Comey hearing.
For context, on the day of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi hearing, October 22, 2015, there were just 414,060 unique tweets that mentioned “Benghazi,” the most popular keyword for her hearing.
To be sure, Twitter itself was smaller during Clinton’s hearing. The service had 305 million monthly active users then, 7 percent fewer than its 328 million MAUs last quarter.
Still, that’s far less than the amount of activity that was clocked during Comey’s Senate questioning, despite the fact that the word Benghazi, in relation to Clinton’s controversy, became a viral social media meme.
(The last Super Bowl, on the other hand, got 27.6 million tweets from pre-game to post-game.)
Another caveat: This data doesn’t discount tweets that may have originated from bots, or accounts that are automated to tweet without a person pressing the button each time.
Bots have come into focus as a problem this past election, as millions of Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s followers have turned out to be bots. To give an example of the false groundswell of support that bots generate, during the third presidential debate, bots that were tweeting in support of Trump outnumbered bots tweeting for Clinton by a ratio of 7 to 1.
And, lastly, the uptick may very well have to do with the fact that Twitter is a bigger part of the political landscape now because of President Trump’s active usage.
After all, the United States president did choose to announce Comey’s replacement on Twitter the day before the Senate hearing — as opposed to, say, at a White House press conference.