Twitter and the #Debates

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Only about 16 million Americans are on Twitter, so the service has recently started encouraging people to “tune in” to Twitter during national events like the debates, for a passive, second-screen experience. Regardless of whether you have a Twitter account or not, you don’t need to log in to see what people are saying by pulling up one of Twitter’s event pages, like the one pictured below.

Twitter debate hashtag page

Over 10 million tweets were sent during the first presidential debate in Denver. Twitter released data graphs on the day following each debate about what happened during them. Click to see the tweet timelines in more detail.

Boca Raton debate tweets

Tweets during debates - Danville

Tweets during the Denver debate

In the studio today, master media decoders Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Marty Kaplan disagreed about the role of Twitter in the debates. Jamieson called it a “distraction,” saying that the takeaways for those watching with Twitter was “Big Bird, binders and bayonets.” She said there is “very tentative evidence” that people who multitask by watching debates while tweeting comprehended less of the actual discussion than those who only watched the broadcast.

But Marty Kaplan defended Twitter, saying that some tweets are valuable, because they provide outside perspectives in real-time that complement what is going on onscreen.

See what they had to say in this clip. Who do you agree with?

Watch Moyers & Company this weekend for more with Jamieson and Kaplan about the debates, campaign advertising and the media’s election coverage.

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  • Neil Kandalgaonkar

    I think the debates are an unfortunate distraction from substantive online discussion.

  • ClaudiaAlexrPolitics

    Twitter a great way to engage with a boring debate, or one where rehearsed talking points are delivered over and over. Also allows for sharing/fact-checking right away. When certain ridiculous lines (binders of women) resonate with the audience, helps to amplify/clarify a ‘sense’ of where a candidate is really coming from. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Also helps to talk to real people rather than listening, post-debate, to paid media spinners/commentators. Lots of cynicism out there about lame-stream media on both right and left. Commercial media is not serving the electorate; twitter filling a void.

  • olibenoli

    I think Twitter is fine as a means for viewers to discuss what they are seeing as it happens. However, I find it very wasteful when news reporters and analysts spend time after the debate talking about what people were saying on Twitter. I want to hear a professional analysis of what happened on both sides, not a recap of memes that caught fire during the debate. If I am on Twitter, I can find that out for myself, and if I’m not on Twitter, then chances are I don’t care. In this sense I think it can take away from valuable post debate discussion.

  • Judy Chucker

    Twitter can be both a useful adjunct and an interruption to the debates. Fact checks with links to original sources shed light on the debate, while the distraction of reading the tweets means you can miss some of the statements. Another plus, some of the tweets help me keep my sense of humor.

  • Anonymous

    I used Twitter during the debates for comic relief and to see what points caught traction with others.

  • settador

    What of substance is actually debated? How many $ change hands as a result of this theater? What purpose does the mainstream media actually serve? How do Brooks and Shields influence voters?

  • Mikki Mack

    Most people have made up their minds quite some time ago. They are tired and sick of repetitive ads, junk mail, robo calls, and all social medias and news online and on tv. We are blasted with it repeatedly for not just a few months but for 18-24 months. Millions of dollars spent on negative ads bashing the opponent. We need a law similar to that in England. No campaigning until two months prior to the election. The debates are repetitive, same questions, same answers and no detailed plans. I think of all the $$ spend on ads that could have been spent to help people get a job, more job training, and all for a job that doesn’t pay but $450K a year? Is it really worth it? I think not. We also need term limits on members of congress. No more career politicians drawing the same salary even after losing an election. They need to pay for their own health care and retirement, no more free health care when others have had to do without health insurance. Yes, we have a few bad apples in society but to those who much is given, much is expected in return – to help those less fortunate. We all can’t be rich, be CEO’s, Dr’s, lawyers, college educated, etc., We need people to be able to get jobs they like and enjoy and still make a decent wage so they can pay rent/mortgage, buy food, clothes, plan for kids college, their retirement, have $$ for health care, buy a decent car in order to get to work. Not everyone wants to be a millionaire or be ‘rich’ they just want their fair share of the piece of pie.

  • JonThomas


    A sad reality of the world in which we live is; people’s 80 years(if we’re lucky) is cast into a mold determined by those with power and influence. However, outside of doing what we can to affect positive change toward our own visions, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

    The political arena, especially that of this country, in which political decisions affect the entire globe, has already cheapened the importance of life affecting choices.

    What should be deep debates and serious, nuanced discussions over vital issues, are reduced(often due to poor education, apathy, disgust with bipartisanship and corruption of integrity, among other things, such as attention span) to sound bites and popularity contests.

    Now twitter is seriously being considered a reasonable, respectable form of political discussion???!!!


    Wait, I went over 140 characters, no one will read this comment anyway…carry on! :(

  • VMP @ leyes 3

    Marty Kaplan hit the nail in the head.. Evidenced, by Gov. John Sununu’s from the heart remark that Colin Powell endorsed President Obama because they are from the same race…I am 63 years old and I tweeted and watched the debates and did not miss any issues..humanity is and will continue to evolve as technology makes more demands on our brain’s already happening.