Government shutdown, filibusters topped 2013's political news online

WASHINGTON – They’re not perfect measures of public interest, but the year-end roundups released by tech giants Google, Twitter and Facebook do provide some insight into the online political curiosity of the nation.

Of the year’s political events, none captured the nation’s attention quite like the government shutdown. Only the Super Bowl was talked about more than the 16-day closure of the federal government on Facebook. And on Google, it was the sixth-highest trending search topic and the second-highest trending event after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Interest on Google in the shutdown far outstripped that of the rollout of the federal health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act, at least until the shutdown ended. Yahoo’s audience was much more interested in the so-called Obamacare implementation, with the term landing sixth on its top 10 most-searched list. And users of Microsoft’s Bing were more interested in gun rights, Anthony Weiner and the fiscal cliff.

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But Google’s reach is more than double that of Bing and Yahoo combined, putting the government shutdown at the forefront of the year’s political news.

Google in particular shows just how quickly an issue can seize the nation’s attention and then just as quickly return to the back burner. Interest in the Syrian civil war spiked as the possibility of U.S. military intervention intensified, peaking immediately after President Obama’s Aug. 31 speech asking for congressional support for strikes against Syria.

But compared with issues such as the government shutdown or the Affordable Care Act, the debate over intervention in Syria was just a blip on the radar.

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As far as political personalities are concerned, the filibuster duo, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), received significant surges in attention during their much-publicized stances against Obama’s drone and healthcare policies.

Though at no point did their speechifying overshadow interest in, say, Obama, Cruz’s sort-of-filibuster landed him the second-highest increase in search volume among male political figures, beaten only by the late Nelson Mandela. Paul was fifth on the list, beating Secretary of State John Kerry (No. 8) and Vice President Joseph Biden (No. 10).

And those Republican filibusters spread across the social Web, with #StandWithRand dominating Twitter during the nearly 13-hour filibuster.

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis was similarly launched into online stardom with her own filibuster against abortion restrictions. Davis, previously an unknown figure, shot to the top of Google’s rankings for female politicians, became a social media sensation and is now in the midst of a gubernatorial bid.

Serving as a reminder to politicians and reporters alike that not every American is informed about everything, four of the top 10 most frequently searched “What is … ?” questions over the past year were tied to political issues.

Google users wondered what ricin was after a letter containing the deadly substance was mailed to President Obama, what the Defense of Marriage Act was as soon as the Supreme Court invalidated it in June, what the sequestration budget cuts were and, three years after it was passed, what Obamacare is.

Google’s figures are generated from a sample of U.S. queries made through its search engine to estimate how many times a particular term was searched in comparison to total searches at that time.

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