Big Data

Trump-Clinton race went to new lows in second debate, and social media exploded

Following a week of controversy and scandal, the second US presidential debate got ugly fast on Sunday night, as the rancor turned it into the most tweeted debate of all time.

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Image: CBS News

This article was originally published on CNET.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton sparred Sunday night in one of the most contentious debates in modern political history.

Followers of each presidential candidate, unsurprisingly, took the contest online.

The 90-minute duel between the real-estate mogul and seasoned Washington veteran, with just a month to go before Election Day 2016, was the most-tweeted political debate in the 10 years of Twitter, the social network said Sunday. More than 17 million debate-related tweets were sent during the contest and nearly 30 million tweets throughout the course of the day.

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Voters were eager to see how Republican nominee Donald Trump would respond to a crumbling presidential campaign, which took a new hit last week with revelations of crude remarks he had made about women. Others were eager to see if his Democratic challengerHillary Clinton would go for the kill.

They didn't have to wait long.

After the candidates took the stage without a handshake (cue trending hashtag #nohandshake), Trump repeated an apology for his explicit comments about women that have prompted key Republicans to withdraw their support.

"This was locker room talk. I'm not proud of it. I apologized to my family. I apologized to the American people. Certainly I'm not proud of it. But this is locker room talk," Trump said.

Trump then quickly hit at Clinton, saying her husband, former president Bill Clinton, had done worse, calling him "abusive."

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Clinton responded, questioning Trump's fitness to be president. She said in addition to his constant barrage of insults, it's clear to anyone who heard the video that it represents "exactly who he is."

That sparked the most popular tweet of the night, which came from college professor Moustafa Bayoumi and which also referenced Trump's call during the debate for Muslims to alert authorities to signs of dangerous activities.

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Both presidential candidates received high negative sentiments during the second debate. | Image: Brandwatch

Social media sentiment, a measure of how viewers responded to the debate, was negative throughout the clash at Washington University in St. Louis. Trump had more than 74 percent negative sentiment compared to Clinton's 53 percent on Twitter, according to Brandwatch, which measures social media. Another group, Spredfast, said the candidates' negative figures stayed steady throughout the event.

"If we can draw conclusions from this, it would be that the crowd is responding, on both sides, to the over-the-top sleaze factor by extremely high levels of social media activity," said William Stodden, a political science professor at North Dakota State College of Science and Concordia College in Minnesota.

Trump dominated the conversation on Twitter with 64 percent of tweets. According to the social network, Clinton got 36 percent.

Kellan Terry, a Brandwatch analyst, said the phrase "locker room talk," which Trump used to explain leaked remarks he made 11 years ago, and "sexual assault," which has been applied to actions those comments described, were among the GOP candidate's top negative mentions.

Trump's unfavorable rating affected Clinton, Terry said, because their conversations intertwined. That meant negative comments about Trump that mentioned Clinton weighed on the Democratic candidate.

"It's fair to say that her sentiment suffered as people were actually talking negatively about her opponent in a tweet that also mentioned her," he said.

Trump tried to score points by attacking Clinton's relationship with her husband, Bill, and the former president's past infidelities. Clinton countered by stating that her husband was not running for president. She then linked the economic prosperity of the 1990s to consistent, if slow, economic growth during her husband's administration.

Clinton touched on cybersecurity when questioned about the security of her private email server. The former secretary of state was investigated by the FBI for using private equipment for government correspondence.

"That was a mistake and I take responsibility for using a personal email account," she said. "I'm not making any excuses."

Trump snorted with dissent, and fired back, "All you have to do is take a look at WikiLeaks and see what they say."

As with previous presidential sparring matches, Sunday night's debate was livestreamed next to real-time tweets from the #debate hashtag. Highlighting a key difference between the two social media platforms, Facebook also streamed the debate and placed live video next to algorithmically sorted posts and comments.

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On Twitter, Trump had almost twice as much conversation as Clinton — 64 percent to 36 percent. On Facebook, Trump had 76 percent of the conversation compared to Clinton's 24.

"Hillary has support of most influential social media commentators but high usage of Trump support hashtags suggest Trump's band of supporters more vocal," concluded Talkwalker, a social media analytics company.

Among the top hashtags used during the debate, Talkwalker said, there was Trump's #BigLeagueTruth with 108,000 mentions, Clinton's #ImWithHer with more than 92,000 mentions, #MAGA (Make America Great Again) with 73,000, and #CrookedHillary with 27,000.

The second debate was not without humorous moments for social media commenters.

As in the first battle, Trump sniffled throughout the sparring session, prompting #sniffles to become a top trend on Twitter. Jeers were a common response to Trump's threat, if he becomes president, to jail Clinton over her email scandal.

The top tweeted moments also included Trump disagreeing with Mike Pence, his running mate, over American involvement in Syria; Trump saying he's "a gentleman" to both hoots and jeers; and Trump saying he would jail Clinton.

The top tweeted moments also included Trump disagreeing with Mike Pence, his running mate, over American involvement in Syria; Trump saying he's "a gentleman" to both hoots and jeers; and Trump saying he would jail Clinton.

The night wasn't totally negative, however. Both candidates increased their Twitter followings.@HillaryClinton added about 25,000, while @realDonaldTrump added 16,000, the social network said.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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