Twitter and fact-checking dominated second screens during presidential debate

By Cory Bergman 

Viewers of the first presidential debate had plenty of souped-up second screen options to track simultaneous conversation and provide expanded coverage and polling.  I sampled several of them during the debate — from apps to live blogs –but the real winners were Twitter and real-time fact checkers.  As you might expect, Twitter said the debate blew away previous political records on the platform (we’ll post the numbers and other social TV data when they’re released).

The debate featured a plethora of facts and “facts” delivered at a high rate of speed.  It was daunting to track, and the moderator, Jim Lehrer, was overwhelmed himself (he was widely criticized by media folks, and @SilentJimLehrer even popped up on Twitter).   The traditional second-screen approach was inadequate — we didn’t need polls and factoids, but informed reaction and fact checking in pace with the broadcast.

Providing up-to-the-minute political fact-checking on complex subjects is no easy task. Politifact performed admirably, keeping up rather well with the action, posting truth-telling tweets along with the broadcast. It also encouraged Twitter users to suggest debate points to check by using the hashtag #PolitifactThis. invested several reporters and editors to power its live fact-checking blog, combining a live stream with social updates and quickly-written blog posts.  Users could also submit items for checking.   Several other news organizations, like NBC’s Truth Squad, followed up after the debate with in-depth reporting.  In addition to its reporting, even featured a huge, real-time “fact-checking” ad from the Obama campaign on its home page:

However, trying to watch a debate while tracking fact-checking is exhausting.  I imagine many Americans preferred seeing their friends’ witty reactions on Twitter or those live-GIFs over on Tumblr.  And of course, chatting about that “Big Bird” comment, which spiked on Twitter at 17,000 tweets per minute and spawned the account, @firedbigbird.