Here is the unvarnished truth: Social media is set to play an unprecedented role in the upcoming presidential debates between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.
The televised political match-ups will undoubtedly reach an audience the size of which has never been seen before in the history of presidential debates.
Trump has already proven to be a ratings magnet in the GOP primary debates and fifteen million people tuned in to the “Commander in Chief Forum” hosted by Matt Lauer, which was, in effect a “preseason” debate event.
The public intrigue stems from the stark contrasts between the two candidates: Outsider vs. insider, populist vs. idealogue, businessman vs. politician, and more. The same dynamics that drew people to see “Batman vs. Superman” and pay-per-view sporting events will be present here.
Trump is unlike any previous participant in a presidential debate as dramatically demonstrated by his debate performance in the GOP primaries. As a veteran television performer he is comfortable in front of the cameras and has the experience to create the kind of debate-defining occurrences that will go viral in the and dominate the social media.
Seminal moments in any debate can have a significant effect on the outcome of the election.
In a far greater magnitude than traditional media of the past, digital social media magnifies those key moments by allowing video footage of them to be viewed repeatedly by an extensive and potentially exponentially growing audience.
The best and worst portions of the debates will be digitally shared, discussed, viewed, and revisited over and over again in the days following the actual debate itself.
Major digital service providers will have broad involvement for the current set of presidential debates.
Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and Microsoft are providing information from social media networks to the moderators, and also will add to the interest in the debates.
In the lead-up to the first debate moderated by NBC News' Lester Holt on September 26, 2016, Facebook and Google are providing analytics to Holt and his network such as, trending search topics, “likes,” and re-posts, to help determine which issues people are discussing and/or searching for that relate to the presidential election.
According to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) Facebook is also acting as the “exclusive social media sponsor” for the debates providing its “Facebook Live,” application, real time video capabilities to display what would normally be off screen activities at the debate site. The social media giant will provide an interactive screen showing ongoing conversations about the candidates and trending topics.
Snapchat will cover each debate on-site in a “live story” format, letting voters see “many different perspectives of students from the debate host universities, volunteers, media and many others.” “Live Story” is Snapchat's product that combines photos and videos to create a story narrative.
The second debate scheduled for Oct. 9, 2016, will mark the first time that a social media company will source questions from its users for a presidential general election debate.
Social media derived questions have been part of presidential debates at the primary level for years. Well known web platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter were all involved in primary debates this presidential election cycle, but never before has social media been utilized for this kind of comprehensive sourcing role before at the presidential general election level.
Facebook has been chosen by the CPD to source questions for the second debate from it's huge database of users. The moderators of the debate, ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, may gather questions through their own Facebook pages, or via the Facebook page of their respective network, and would then pick the the questions to ask each candidate.
The CPD has been seeking to incorporate questions into the presidential general election debate via social media since early this year. The commission had indicated that half of the questions in the subject debate would be posed “directly by citizen participants and the other half will be posed by the moderator based on topics of broad public interest as reflected in social media and other sources.”
The commission has indicated that technology platforms other than Facebook, particularly Google, will also be engaged in sourcing questions.
The three presidential debates will be held on Monday, Sept. 26, moderated by NBC's Holt, Sunday, Oct. 9, moderated by CNN's Cooper and ABC's Raddatz, and Wednesday, Oct. 19, moderated by Fox News' Chris Wallace, all live-streamed on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Yahoo.
A greater role played by social media in the three head-to-head presidential encounters may help remind the moderators that the debates are there to serve the American people and are not supposed to be about the moderators themselves.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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