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Debate Part 1: How it unfolded online

Rory Cellan-Jones | 20:11 UK time, Thursday, 15 April 2010

It's 8pm, and I'm preparing to watch the first prime-ministerial debate with my laptop at the ready, to see how it is received online. Will it be the biggest online political event so far - with thousands using sites like Twitter and Facebook to provide running commentary? Or will it fail to beat the record set by the appearance of the BNP's Nick Griffin on Question Time last year? Apparently that peaked at 12.5 tweets per second.

The various cheerleaders are all warming up - ConservativeHome and LabourList are both live-blogging the debate. The Liberal Democrats don't appear to have a live blogger - but plenty of supporters are massing on Twitter.

2030 And we're off. As the debate gets underway, all three leaders appear neck and neck on a sentiment tracker I'm looking at. But not everyone is excited - a student writes on Twitter:

Sitting in the student bar waiting for the #leadersdebate to come on. Not alot of people here... #voterapathy

2040 Facebook's "Rate the debate" must be popular - it won't load for me and there's a message: "some users may be struggling to access the app due to overloading - Hang in there!"

2045 Brown's sentiment rating went diving into negative territory in the first 10 minutes - then recovered sharply overtaking his rivals.

2050 A big split amongst viewing tweeters - some want the leaders to look at the camera, others to look at the questioner.

2055 Two rival views of how it's going - can you guess which party each supports?

"DC looks and sounds way more confident and genuine than the others - he looks comfortable, he's begining to enjoy it."

"Straight policies from GB, just words and scaremongering from Call Me Dave"

2100 Gordon Brown's Lord Ashcroft dig - and a subsequent clash with David Cameron - is greeted by online commenters as the first sign of real life in a rather sterile event.

But the event is still not impressing everyone: "Makes you think how good Blair v Hague v Kennedy would have been," writes on.

2105 I quite enjoyed this comment: "Any reason why the qs are in the style of blind date? I'm a publican, if you were a drink, what would you be and why?"

Meanwhile at Facebook: "Keep trying to access the app, we're adding servers now. Hang in for a moment and it should be working soon."

2110 The frequency of tweets reaches 22.5 per second, according to Tweetminster. So that's almost double the peak for the Nick Griffin Question Time

2125 Conservative tweeters are quick to celebrate an early Sky poll - notably party Chairman Eric Pickles:

"Brown's attacks failing as early SKY polling shows Cameron 36, Clegg 36, Brown 28‬"

Labour's Kerry McCarthy hits back with:
"I'm biased, but Gordon and Clegg seem comfortable, despite Clegg's stuttering. Cameron seems to be floundering."

And here's what might just be a LibDem tweet:

"Almost crying with joy at how well Nick Clegg is doing and how awful the other two candidates are making themselves look".

2130 Tweetminster says there have now been more than 100,000 tweets. But both Facebook's rate the debate tool, and's Twitter sentiment tracker are still suffering technical problems.

2140 Still a furious rate of tweeting - but not everyone is gripped. "Right, getting bored of #LeadersDebate now and shall have a shower."

The Lexalytics Twitter sentiment tracker I've been monitoring is now showing a clear lead for Nick Clegg, with David Cameron and Gordon Brown neck and neck.

2145 The various tics of the leaders beginning grate on some commenters - such as Gaby Hinsliff, former political editor of the Observer newspaper:

"Cameron's overdoing it on thank-the-questioner. official: thanking is the new 'I met a man in swindon last week' ".

Gordon Brown's grin is going down badly too - and Anthony Painter says:

"Lesson no.1. Look. at. the. camera. There's 10million people there. Hi."

And someone called Geekplanetchris says:

"I bet Nick Clegg spends half his time on Facebook ignoring friend requests and pokes from Gordon Brown".

2155 As the debate draws to a close, they've all come together on the sentiment tracker - to neutral. Perhaps because there is an unusual level of consensus on the last question about long-term care.

2205 Final stats are in from Tweetminster: total tweets: 184,396; average frequency 29.06 tweets per second; total tweeters: 36,483.

A first look along the track of each man's sentiment reading through the 90 minutes shows Nick Clegg generally being tweeted about more positively than the other two leaders.

In summary, the debate did deliver in terms of online engagement, with record numbers wanting to tweet about it, and Facebook struggling to cope with the numbers wishing to engage with the event through its Democracy UK page.


  • Comment number 1.


    Good summaries of the unfolded debate that was given to us the audience!


  • Comment number 2.

    "Final stats are in from Tweetminster: total tweets: 184,396; average frequency 29.06 tweets per second; total tweeters: 36,483."

    Essentially less than 40,000 people on Twitter cared to send a message using the leaderdebate tag. There were probably fewer than 2000 blogs who cared also.

    Essentially a vocal minority. Does this clique have an audience?

  • Comment number 3.

    Still rather astonished at the initial polling though I suspect it will be a couple of days before a properly weighted and followed up poll can be put together. For me it was Cameron's to lose and he lost it badly. Clegg was as expected, though did stray into the anecdotal a little too much for my liking; but Cameron spent the whole time on anecdotal, Daily Mail-esque nonsense. He met a black man who was worried about immigration? Seriously?

    Brown I felt was solid, unexciting, but felt like he was in control and untroubled. The other two let themselves get over-excited, and at some inappropriate points too.

    Stand out moments were Cameron's nuking of China - hilariously inappropriate - and his claim that "we all know what it's like to have to tighten our belts" - beyond satire for a man married to a multi-millionaire.

  • Comment number 4.

    A piece of TV history?
    Not for me, but that rather nice Mr Glegg came out of it quite well. And Mr Brown put forward as a statesman for me.
    Will it matter in the election? 2 more debates will sort that out

  • Comment number 5.

    The whole thing was quite tough to watch; full of fawning sincerity, gushing sentimentality and endless stomach churning anecdotes, especially from Dangerous Dave, but it really didn't tell me anything I didn't know. Clegg is a good guy even if he reminds me a little of Blair. Brown is a hopeless orator and Call Me Dave is about as trustworthy as Harry Redknapp and his attempts to identify with the common man were cringeworthy.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thought it was funny when Cameron accused brown of making up the £6bn figure up, then using the very same figure 5 minutes later.

    Also, some of the people in the audience looked like plants, especially that student. Nobody cares how many times you get tested if there are no jobs to get when you're done.

  • Comment number 7.

    @Duncan in Edinburgh

    He did indeed meet a black man who was worried about immigration - he was also 40 years old and had been in the Navy for 30 years. Make of that what you will.

  • Comment number 8.

    Where can we see these sentiment trackers? I've seen them on the news, but not online, which is odd because that's where they originate.

  • Comment number 9.

    BNP's Nick Griffin on Question Time last year - 12.5 tweets/second. Wow!
    Looking back, I remember Griffin said if Winston Churchill were alive today he would be a member of the BNP.
    Also, when asked if he had ever denied the holocaust, Griffin merely grinned and responded: "I wasn't convicted for it...I do not have a conviction for holocaust denial."
    So, there is no doubt that the man is provocative as well as entertaining and quick wited.
    Who cares if the debaters look at the camera or look at the questioner, or point to the moon for that matter? It’s what comes out their mouths, passes into your brain and makes sense that matters.
    Then there was Gordon Brown's Lord Ashcroft dig - subsequent clash with David Cameron: This fires up online commenters. Is this what people like in this day & age - argumentation, bickering, confrontation – all of which seems to pass as entertainment?
    The frequency of tweets reaches 22.5 per second. Thank goodness, I was thinking we might have to add Nick Griffin.
    In summary, the debate did deliver in terms of online engagement, but dear Rory, look at the comments.
    Was there even one comment that you wanted to download, print, read again and again because of its prescient nature, or public awareness, or even basic political knowledge, or was it more like: "Heh, this is the thing to do! Let's do it!! Beats boredom."
    Next debate I would really like to hear each candidate answer these questions: What do you think of a bank levy? Would you favour a Tobin Tax?

  • Comment number 10.

    2. At 08:45am on 16 Apr 2010, Monjo wrote:
    Essentially a vocal minority. Does this clique have an audience?

    LoL. It seems it does. If probably not really too worried about representing objectively the vast majority of the electorate to whom they broadcast onwards elsewhere.



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