Tweeting the Debates


Over the last several weeks, and again on October 22, the country has been witness to a series of debates leading up to the 2012 presidential election.  These debates are televised live and, simultaneously, analyzed and reported on by commentators, journalists – and with the advent of blogs, Facebook and Twitter, by the general public. 

“While millions of Americans will be watching the debates live, many more will turn to this coverage to understand what happened in these contests,” said Dr. Abigail Perkiss, assistant professor in the Department of History. “They will rely on the media to tell the story of the debates, to lay out both the issues and the stakes surrounding the election. Ultimately, these media and social media outlets are constructing their world.”

And members of the Kean University community are encouraged to play a role in crafting that story – along with the students in Perkiss’s online Civil Society in America courses.

“For this class, I teach the material in three sections – foundations and ideas of American democracy, the public sphere and engagement in civil society, and the processes of change-making,” she said. “I have been thinking about the best way to teach about the public sphere, and I realized that it was important to make the assignments match the content – to make it as interactive and engaging as possible. This approach encourages students to become not only consumers of media, but creators of media and critical thinkers who better understand their world.”

To that end, Perkiss reached out to Prof. Nicole Kraft, a journalism instructor at Ohio State University, to put together a joint assignment for their respective students – both groups will use the same hashtag (#keanosu). Now, Perkiss is inviting the campus community to join her students, and a majority of people on the planet, in the online discussion.

“There are studies that show that distillation of information, such as that which occurs in social media, causes people to lose key skills needed to operate effectively in the world,” added Perkiss. “This project is a neat opportunity to use those same technologies to re-inject those skills back into our students using the ‘Twitter-verse’ platform.”

One of her students, Jazzmin Cox, expressed her appreciation for the project and what it says about her generation:
This project is a great idea because it shows how engaged college students are in this year's presidential election. Some of us young college students have never been aware of or interested in politics or voting, but now that it is starting to effect us in our personal lives we seem to play closer attention to it.

Want to get involved? Here are some suggested guidelines based on her HIST 1000 assignment that you can use to discuss one of the previous debates or the upcoming debate on October 22, from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

1) Choose at least one or more of the presidential or vice presidential debates and watch it in its entirety (previous debates are available online).

October 11 - 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. - Vice Presidential Debate on Foreign and Domestic Policy
October 16 - 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. - Presidential Debate with Town Hall Meeting
* October 22 - 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. - Presidential Debate on Foreign Policy

2) During the debate, take on the role of a reporter, chronicling the event live on Twitter. If you don’t already have a Twitter account, signing up is free and simple.

Suggested Guidelines:

  • Post a minimum of 10 Tweets over the course of the evening.
  • Each Tweet should include the hashtag #keanosu, and on as many as you can, the trending debate hashtag
  • Tweets should include substantive material about the debate.  They should balance summarizing with your own analysis (in the allowable 140 characters or less including the hashtag) that may include:
    • A behind-the-scenes perspective. What do you see, interpret?
    • Commentary on the coverage of the debate. If you are following certain news outlets and you see trends in the reporting, note that.

When using #keanosu, please stay away from biased opinions toward or against one candidate.

Your feed should include:

  • Engaging: One of your tweets must ask a relevant question to your followers to encourage responses.
  • Embedding: One of your tweets must include a link to relevant information for your readers (it could be an official website, a news story, a blog, etc.…)
  • Tagging: One of your tweets must tag a public figure (a politician, journalist, commentator, etc. using @TWITTERHANDLE) and offer a comment relevant to the debate.  Bonus points if that person responds to your tweet or begins following you! 

Helpful Hints:

  • Think of the entire event like a story, with a beginning, middle and an end. Send a couple tweets prior to the debate, then cover the debate itself, then send a couple more at the conclusion to wrap things up.
  • You only have 140 characters per Tweet, so use them wisely. Omit needless words.
  • Make sure your Tweets are readable, full sentences as much as possible.
  • To that end – use correct grammar and spelling.
  • Be appropriate to the tone of the event.
  • You are a news reporter. Don’t get so caught up in the event that you can’t maintain an objective mindset.
  • Be professional at all times. You are engaging in a public conversation and you never know who may be reading.

Students in Perkiss’s class are also being asked to write a reflection paper on what Twitter does to the flow of information and commenting on the experience of both watching/reporting the debate and any changes in perception of media and politics. Of course, Kean University community members are exempt from this portion of the assignment. However, if you want to send feedback, please e-mail Dr. Perkiss at or on Twitter @AbiPerk and include #keanosu.

Want in-person company while you watch the debates? Join the Center for Leadership and Service for Debate Watch 2012 to view and discuss the debate on October 22, from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. in the University Center Game Room. Each debate will be followed by discussion and election trivia. Light refreshments will be served.