SAN FRANCISCO — So who won the debate? Social media, in a landslide.
While presidential candidates Hillary Clinton andDonald Trump slugged it out for 90 minutes, touching briefly on cybersecurity, viewers kept up a loud and raucous side-patter on Facebook and Twitter. The social networks racked up huge numbers of posts and tweets, to borrow a favorite word from one of the debate participants.
Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio called it the “most tweeted debate ever.” There were 10 million tweets during the first presidential debate in 2012, according to Twitter.
The most-tweeted topics: the economy, foreign affairs, energy and environment, terrorism, and guns. The most-popular single tweet was a 2012 tweet of Trump’s denial of calling global warming a Chinese hoax.
Twitter said the three-most tweeted moments were Trump’s vow he has “good temperament,” his comments on stop-and-frisk police actions, and an exchange between the combatants on their plans to defeat ISIS.
A number of tweeters also noted Trump’s frequent sniffling during early stages of the debate. Several invoked Richard Nixon’s profuse flop sweat during his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy.
On Facebook, the debate was the top event of this presidential season, company spokesman Andy Stone said. Some 18.6 million members in the U.S. generated 73.8 million likes, posts, comments and shares. The top issues were taxes, ISIS, racial issues, the economy, and crime and criminal justice.
The top social moment in the debate’s first half, according to Facebook, was when Trump said, “She tells you how to fight ISIS on her website. I don’t think Gen. Douglas MacArthur would like that too much.” During the second half, it was Trump again: “My strongest asset is my temperament.”
As good as it was for Facebook and Twitter, TV networks did even better — the debate was viewed by a record 84 million Americans, ratings service Nielsen said.
Livestreams on par with Olympics
On both platforms, Trump generated the most conversation (79% on Facebook, 62% on Twitter) — both good and bad.
Peak traffic of live video-streaming from last night’s debate was on a par with that of the women’s team gymnastics final during the Rio Summer Olympics last month, according to content-delivery network provider Akamai Technologies. “It’s the equivalent of downloading 110 two-hour HD movies every second,” said Ben Bloom, senior manager of media and gaming professional services at Akamai.
“Viewing the debate on social was like attending an eclectic cocktail party,” said Livestream CEO Jesse Hertzberg, whose company partnered with FedNet on a live-stream of the event. The variety of comments, from all political sides, was “revealing,” he said.
Great night for fact checkers
Fact-checkers, meanwhile, had a big night. Traffic on media sites with fact checkers soared 3,000%, according to content-delivery network Fastly.
The Cyber’ and heavy hackers
And, yes, the candidates briefly discussed technology.
“Cyber warfare is one of the big challenges facing the next president,” Clinton said.
The country faces threats from independent hacking groups motivated by profit, and by state actors attempting to probe the files of government agencies, corporations and individuals, Clinton said.
“We are not going to sit idly by and let state actors go after our private information and government information,” she said.
Trump, in a rare moment, agreed with his opponent. He said the U.S. must be vigilant against cyberattacks. But he quickly blamed President Obama for losing the battle on the Internet with ISIS.
“When you look at what ISIS is doing with the Internet, they’re beating us,” he said. “It is a huge problem. The security aspect of the cyber is very, very tough. We are not doing the job we should be doing.” His repeat comments on “the cyber” or the problems simply with “cyber” — both unusual shorthand when talking about cyber security and hacking — earned its own hashtag and comparisons with former President George W. Bush’s famous debate quote in 2004, “I hear they’re rumors on the uh Internets.”
Trump later said the hacker of the Democratic National Committee’s email might not be Russian or Chinese but “someone sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds.”
The social media companies, whose billions of worldwide members represent a kaleidoscope of comments during live sports and entertainment events, braced for a heavy-viewing night. Both teamed up with prominent media partners to stream the keenly-anticipated showdown in hopes of peeling off TV viewers.
Facebook and ABC teamed to stream the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Twitter formed a partnership with Bloomberg to present the debate, just as the micro-blogging site streams NFL games on Thursday night. Twitter, reportedly on the market, live-streamed the Democratic and Republican conventions via a deal with CBS.
Social media has been abuzz the past month: 33.6 million people on Facebook in the U.S. weighed in with posts related to Trump 367 million times; 28 million commented nearly 300 million times on Clinton.
Before the debate started, Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate for president, was ushered away for party crashing. She turned to Twitter to make her pitch later.