This column appeared originally on Troy Media.

There were no truck nuts on this one, but they were all over Twitter during the leader's debate.

Oops. They did it again. And we fell for it. We actually believed the debate was about informing Albertans of the issues prior to the April 23 provincial election. We tuned in to watch an hour-long “debate” expecting an all-you-can-eat buffet of election information and ended up ordering off a pretty limited menu.

The good news is that the debate may have whetted some appetites for further involvement. The bad news is that there was a missed social media opportunity to engage people even more in the political process.

Political debates in 2012 AT (After Twitter)

“How did people watch debates long ago, before Twitter?” tweeted Archie McLean, assignment editor at an Edmonton daily newspaper and with good reason. Watching the Twitter feed was a great way for those of us flying solo at home with popcorn and “refreshments” to feel connected and engaged.

According to (the experts on social media-related statistics during this election), there were 1,789 unique Tweeters contributing, to produce a total of 5,781 tweets during the debate (see a summary of some of the most noteworthy tweets here). There were likely many more Twitter “voyeurs” watching the Twitter stream.

Unleash the colour commentary from Twitter

Global Television could have followed CBC Television’s lead (most recently during the NDP Leadership Convention) and showed a live stream of the tweets for some added spice. During the marathon NDP event, and through several attempts to crash the electronic voting system, the intrigue created via the ongoing Twitter chatter was a lifesaver. Both the audience and the onscreen reporters were rescued from dead air several times by comments fed to them via Twitter.

Some media were thinking ahead. As the Alberta debate drew closer, national reporter Jen Gerson created a drinking game that further added to the anticipation. The game included rules like this one for Dr. Raj Sherman, “For use of overheated rhetoric, i.e. equating any party to a Soviet-style nightmare, TEAM SHERMAN GULPS A DRINK.”

Nenshi matters

Contributing to the Twitter stream on debate night were notables like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, “I can’t help myself. After 34 debates in the municipal election, I keep wanting to inject witty rejoinders. I’ll try and stay under control.” Political scientist Emmet Macfarlane (University of Victoria) tried to “poke the bear” from the west coast with, “So, when’s the French debate?”

Remember when a tweeter meant something else entirely?

As the conversation turned to what the parties would spend future fantasy surpluses on, the party that was actually a parody, the Wild Boars mocked, “It’s the same sound strategy that most people use when they plan their future based on projected lottery winnings.” The Wild Boars were excluded from the debate along with the Evergreens and the Alberta Party—not for being naughty—just, well…because. (truth is, I’m not really sure)

In other news…the Alberta Party blogged

The Alberta Party, feeling jilted by the debate organizers, decided to take to the web and feature a live/chat with their leader, Glenn Taylor. With the main event going on at the same time on TV, keeping people interested was likely one of Taylor’s most significant challenges to date (next to all that incessant LISTENing he did all over the province).

Amidst the seriousness of the debate and the gravity of the decision facing all Albertans in this election, the Twitterati did provide some much-needed levity, “Let the WRP sit in opposition, we can date them and get to know them. Then let’s really get it on in 2016.” (@buzzbishop).

Truck nut wisdom

One of the most retweeted comments came from the associate editor of Avenue magazine in Edmonton, Omar Mouallem, who says he’s a “writer, rapper and feline biographer.” He observed, “Danielle Smith doesn’t think Albertans will waste their own money? Has she seen truck nuts?” With that tweet, Mouallem catapulted “truck nuts” into a trending topic (which means the term went viral, sort of). After that famous tweet, Mouallem fretted, “I fear I may be a one tweet wonder.”

Fifteen seconds of fame aside, the Twitter crowd was quick to pick up on the fact that not one of the journalists asked a question about the oil sands or the environment.

At a time when the oil sands are both an internationally recognized and reviled resource, the omission was a bit of an embarrassment. Seriously? No one thought it was important enough?

Spanked…by the “greens”

The Evergreen Party was quick to issue a news release, “The urgent need for a plan to deal with climate change was missing. There was no evidence of concern about looming water shortages in southern Alberta. There was zero attention to Alberta’s need to transition away from dependence on non-renewable resources to a green economy that will continue to support Albertans in the decades ahead.”

A quick check with the “crowd” prior to the debate via a Facebook page engagement or even allowing Albertans to vote on the questions beforehand would have been a great idea.

One last plucky comment

After the audience was served up a meal of jabs, insults and accusations, the online polls fired up and verdicts were rendered as to which party leader won. I won’t bore you with the details here, you’ve probably already heard, but one tweet from Brent Hoyland (@bshoyland) caught my eye. “I think Brian Mason’s eyebrow is a clear runner up!”

Now, of course, there is a Twitter account for “Brian Masons Eyebrow” (@BMasons_Eyebrow). The bushy brow tweets that it is twitching, and furrowing.

Jody MacPherson is an Accredited Business Communicator with 25 years in public relations. She graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University and began her career in the energy sector. In the last decade, she has been working mainly in the not-for-profit and public sector, specializing in social media and digital communication.

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