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Should You Live-Tweet the Presidential Debate?

What does the research say?

By Francie Diep


(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It’s the most important question of our age: Should you live-tweet tonight’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Or should you try to stay away from social media?

Research provides a mixed answer. One study, conducted among 141 college students who watched presidential debates in 2012, found that those who tweeted more frequently during debates gleaned more knowledge from the events. But a 2012 national telephone survey found adults who followed Twitter and Facebook while watching debates learned less information from them.

A few studies suggest Twitter exerts a kind of peer pressure that voters might want to avoid. Research from 2013 found that college students who live-tweeted a 2012 Republican primary debate viewed candidates who received more Twitter mentions more favorably, while another study found that those who live-tweeted a debate were more likely to change their vote to the candidate who seemed more popular on Twitter. Because Twitter mentions and Twitter popularity have never been shown to correlate with leadership ability, we recommend avoiding such influences, if possible.

What’s the verdict? The research on the effects of live-tweeting presidential debates still seems uncertain, but, for now, it leans negative. Pacific Standard, or any other publication, is unlikely to sign off of social media for the duration of the debate. But for those who can, it’s probably a vote in the right direction.