Tuesday’s debacle is the most-tweeted-about sports event in history: Twitter reports 35.6 million tweets during the game. A real-time Twitter "heat map" shows six continents seething yellow and red as each German goal slams in. The flood swelled to a record 580,166 tweets a minute, when Germany scored its fifth goal at Minute 29 and the enormity of it all set in. Anything a half million people do, separately but in concert, speaks large. Facebook was aboil, too, with 66 million users and 200 million interactions.
As late as Friday afternoon, more than 4,000 tweets with the words Brazil and Germany were sent in a two-hour period, according to the social Web search engine Topsy.com. Meanwhile, Twitterworld revved up for Sunday’s championship match, with more than 2,000 tweets containing the words Argentina and Germany posted during one hour Friday afternoon, according to Topsy.com figures.
With unerring excess, social media explored what you weren’t supposed to say: Beneath this game lurked racial, historical, and cultural issues.
The Google doodle of the day showed two Volkswagen Bugs, one German, one Brazilian, bopping a soccer ball between them. That recalled the historic connection between Germany and Brazil, where about 12 million Brazilians identify themselves as being of German heritage. The doodle quickly became a meme, with the German Bug booting balls into Brazil’s open trunk.
Sports-rooting is often tribal. When Brazil lost, Twitter jumped up and down on the corpse. In Mohammed Al Hedous’ “Germany Eat Brazil Like Shark Attack” tweet, a German flag chomps a Brazilian flag.
If anything, Germany got it worse: By game’s end, Nazi trended on Twitter , plus jokes such as “Brazil did Nazi that coming” and its ilk (“The Germans have stormed into a foreign country and taken charge. How unexpected.” “All of these nazi jokes are out of mein kampfort zone…”) A common word in headlines was Blitzkrieg.
Ralf Dietmar Wiedemann is consul at the German consulate in Philadelphia. “Speaking as a dual citizen of Germany and the United States,” he says, “I’d say the use of such terms as Blitzkrieg really isn’t offensive. It’s a common term already in English, and besides” — he adds, perhaps mischievously — “it’s a good description of what really happened in the game.”
Visual memes were stellar. Repurposed images (some with cruel captions) proliferated of Brazilians weeping on the pitch and in the stands. The face of Clovis Acosta Fernandes, a sad, mustachioed fan clutching his World Cup trophy replica, rocketed worldwide. His name, as a Web meme: “The Saddest Man in Brazil.”
Creativity was dizzying. The statue of Christ the Redeemer, atop Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro, has arms outstretched — so some wit added the caption “We lost by this much.” In other memes, it covered its face in shame, turned into a rocket and blasted off — or, in a brilliant meme from the German daily Bild, became German Chancellor Angela Merkel shouting hurray.
Alex Weiss, cofounder of CA Creative, a marketing firm in New York, says, “It amazes me how creative people are, where they can take these pop-culture moments and make them something new … they post them so quickly and they spread so quickly.” People use social media, she says, to “engage in a big, global, real-time conversation.”
Shawn Prez, founder of Power Moves Inc., concurs: “It’s amazing, the power of it: Everybody’s watching the same thing, getting in on it, wanting to show their loyalty.” (Brands like World Cup sponsor Adidas have to scramble to be part of the here-and-now flow. “Print, even YouTube ads, which you have to preproduce, are too slow,” Weiss says.)
And some sought to comfort Brazil. Mashable ran a piece titled “27 World Cup Memes to Help Brazil Laugh Away the Pain”: a mountainously tilted playing field, labeled “Brazil’s Plan B Against Germany”; cats playing soccer; SpongeBob SquarePants saying, “Wanna See Me Score on Brazil? … Wanna See Me Do It Again?” Hashtags like #RespectBrazil became instant hits. When Brazilian player David Luiz tearfully apologized on TV — soon becoming a meme himself — an empathetic hashtag answered #DavidOBrasilTeAma, “David, oh, Brazil loves you.”
The social media reaction Tuesday could be a model of the human spirit for years to come, studied by students of the human condition for clues to what we are. And what are we? A species in love with play, tribal, clever, cruel, soulful. And poetic. Even more astonishing than the things that astonish us.