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Who won the debate? Social media and 'The Cyber'

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It did not take long for the presidential candidates to interrupt each other and clash during the first presidential debate.
USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO — So who won the debate? Social media, in a landslide.

While presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump slugged it out for 90 minutes, touching briefly on cybersecurity, Facebook and Twitter 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,” though final numbers were not available yet. 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 was Trump’s denial of calling global warming a Chinese hoax. (He did.)

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.

On Facebook, the debate was the top event of this presidential season, company spokesman Andy Stone said. 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.”

On both platforms, Trump generated the most conversation (79% on Facebook, 62% on Twitter) — both good and bad.

Fact-checkers, meanwhile, had a big night. Traffic on media sites with fact checkers soared 3,000%, according to content-delivery network Fastly.

And, yes, the candidates briefly discussed technology.

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‘The Cyber’ and heavy hackers

“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 ofcyber 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.

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.”

Amid the verbal jousting, Facebook and Twitter were overwhelmed with debate comments, reflecting intense interest in what analysts say will be one of the most-watched presidential debates ever.

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.

Follow USA TODAY San Francisco Bureau Chief Jon Swartz @jswartz on Twitter.

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