How last night's debate played out on social media

Steven Loeb · September 27, 2016 · Short URL:

Facebook saw 55M live video views, while it was the most Tweeted debate ever on Twitter

Every four years we have another election, and every four years social media accounts for a bigger role in helping us pick our new President. 

This year the big, new development was live streaming, as, for the first time ever, you could watch the entire event on social media without having to turn on a television. It's a big advancement, especially for those who live outside the U.S. and who want an easy way to see what's going on with our politics (as long as they have a decent WiFi connection, of course)

Here's how the debate played out on each of the big three social networks:


If Monday night's debate was any indication, then the live video experiment has, so far, been a success, as Facebook saw 55 million views of its "debate-related" live videos, according to data provided to VatorNews by the company. 

While 55 million seems like a lot, it's honestly hard to say, since there's no direct comparison to be made. Maybe we'll have a better sense after the numbers come in for the next two debates or, if we can be patient, how they stack up against the election in 2020.

The best we can do right now is compare it to the conventions, which saw, over those eight days combined, 120 million views. That means the debate had nearly half that number in just one night. 

One thing a spokesperson for Facebook couldn't tell me was how long those users were watching. That's a pretty important number, actually, since that stat is what recently got Facebook in a bunch of trouble with its advertising partners. 

In all, 18.6 million users created 73.8 million likes, posts, comments and shares, with most of them relating to taxes, ISIS, racial issues, the economy, and crime and criminal justice. The biggest moment of the night was when Trump declared that he had a better temperament than Clinton (something even the audience as the debate couldn't help but laugh at).

Trump made up 79 percent of the conversation, compared to just 21 percent about Clinton. This doesn't track sentiment, and, from what I saw on my Facebook last night, almost none of those posts about Trump from my friends were positive. 

This stat says a lot about campaigning in the Internet age: Clinton is currently spending $500,000 a day on campaign ads, while Trump is spending nothing. He's getting free publicity, and using it to remain close in the election.

In addition to streaming the event, Facebook is taking a bigger role than ever before this year, in that it is actually helping to shape the debate questions. 

Facebook and Google are giving moderators data on what people are searching for, and talking about, in the weeks leading to each of the debates. In addition, Facebook will actually be helping the moderators source questions to ask. 


Twitter was also live streaming the debate, though so far no numbers have been released by the company on how many were watching. 

It did, however, tell the Hollywood Reporter that this was the most-tweeted debate ever, without divulging any real numbers. The previous record was held by the first debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in 2012. with 10.3 million tweets in 90 minutes. It should be noted that each successive debate saw fewer tweets; the second generated 7.2 million, and the third went down to 6.5 million.

People were obviously less interested in the debates as the novelty wore off in 2012 and it will be interesting to see if the same thing happens to the live streaming numbers. With Trump on stage, though, this year may see interest start to rise, just because people can't wait to see what he'll say next. 

The most tweeted about moment of the night was, once again, when Trump talked about his temperament. That was followed by his very controversial comments about stop and frisk. Coming in third was when Trump and Clinton argued about fighting ISIS. 

Again, Trump also had the majority of the conversation, though far less than he did on Facebook: 62 percent, compared to 38 percent for Clinton.

The most-tweeted topics during the debate were the economy, foreign affairs, energy and the environment, terrorism and guns. 


This season is also historic since it's the first time that Snapchat has been around to take an active role (the company was only founded in 2011 and didn't have enough of a following to matter back in 2012).

Snapchat announced earlier this month that it would be a Live Story for debate; Live Stories are a geolocated collection of photos and Snaps, which are curated to create a user-generated snapshot of an event. 

So far the company doesn't seem to have released any numbers on how many users participated in the Live Story. VatorNews reached out to the company and we will update this story if we learn more.

The history of social media and the election

The relationship between social media and the debate started in the 2008 campaign, when CNN began showing questions submitted by citizens on YouTube for the Democratic debates between Obama and Clinton, and it's only grown since. 

Last year, for example, Twitter announced that it had partnered up with CBS News for the Democratic debate in November. CBS used Twitter's curator tools to measure"changing responses to what viewers were watching, while Twitter will also provided CBS News with real-time data and insights.

It's hard to remember but social media was still a relative novelty back in 2008. Facebook was only four years old, Twitter was only two and Snapchat didn't even exist yet. 

At that time, Facebook had only 100 million active users, compared to 1.7 billion now. Twitter passed one billion Tweets in November of 2008; the company is now seeing 500 million Tweets sent every day.

These days, social media has the power to make or break candidates. Want proof of that? Last night Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump out for blaming global warming on a conspiracy perpetuated by China to bring down the United States. He denied he ever said it.

How long do you think it took the Internet to find this?

The power of social media cannot be denied.

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