On Wednesday, TheTeaParty.net held the first ever presidential debate on Twitter, posing questions to candidates in 140-character bursts as hopefuls answered in kind. On the sidelines, 22,400 viewers watched and commented.
The project is the brainchild of Andrew Hemingway, the creator of Digital-Acumen.com, which teaches politicians how to use Twitter effectively, and the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire. He originally came up with the idea while riding in a car with presidential hopeful and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. He took the idea and started working with developer Adam Green, who, with his son Zach, helped create the debate.
Gingrich, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Gov. Gary Johnson, and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter all participated in the debate, which was moderated by S.E. Cupp, a right-leaning columnist, with live analysis by Rusty Humphries, a conservative talk radio show host.
What could have been a huge confusion of thought-bursts was organized on a single website that was more ordered and controlled than a similar debate would have been on a single Twitter feed.
Essentially, the website organized any tweets about the debate in a new interface. An algorithm re-tweeted messages from authorized accounts, such as candidates and moderators, when they mentioned @140townhall, the name of the event, and placed them in one central column.
The website also searched every single post on Twitter and pulled in about 14,000 tweets that mentioned the candidates or the town hall, and those were published off to the side where they were clearly visible, but not mixed up in the debate itself. It also filtered out any vulgar language.
But the system did have its flaws. Every candidate was answering the general questions at the same time, causing inevitable interruptions between each candidate by another candidate. It only got more confusing when Cupp started directing individual questions to candidates, which meant candidates were not talking about the same things anymore.
Though some candidates made it easier for viewers by keeping complete thoughts to a tweet (such as Bachmann and Cain), others, like McCotter, would let sentences continue into another tweet.
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