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Russia, abortion, disrespect for women, and allegations of a rigged election generated the most chatter Wednesday night during the final debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Those are among the findings of The Political Social Media Research Group, composed of students in a political communication seminar. The class is led by Stuart N. Brotman, the School of Journalism and Electronic Media’s Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor of Media Management and Law and Beaman Professor of Communication and Information in the College of Communication and Information.

psmrg_presidentialdebate3The students have been using sophisticated social media monitoring technology in the college’s Adam Brown Social Media Command Center to monitor various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and Instagram, to spot trends and flashpoints—issues that spur the most social chatter—and also judge the sentiment of the chatter.

The students posted real-time analysis on the PSMRG’s social media platforms and issued an end-of-night report. Here are some of their observations from Wednesday night’s debate:

  • Talk of Russia during the debate prompted 690,000 social media posts.
  • Within five minutes of the “puppet” moment—when Clinton alleged that Trump has been a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin—more than 50,000 social media posts using the word were logged.
  • There were more than 16,000 social media mentions of “rigged elections” after Trump refused to say he would accept election results if he loses. Those comments were split roughly 50-50 between positive and negative sentiment.
  • Abortion was a leading trend regarding Supreme Court discussion, garnering 30,000 social media posts.
  • Of topics brought up by the candidates, “disrespect of women” generated more comments than “WikiLeaks,” “abortion,” “guns,” and “election rigging” combined.
  • Of topics brought up by moderator Chris Wallace, “foreign hot spots” generated the most social media discussion. Other leading topics generating significant social media chatter were, in order, immigration, Supreme Court, WikiLeaks, economy, and fitness to be president.

Get The Political Social Media Research Group’s analysis by following the group on:

  • Twitter (@PSMRG_UTK)
  • Facebook (The Political Social Media Research Group)
  • Instagram (@psmrg_utk)
  • Medium (PSMRG)

The Adam Brown Social Media Command Center uses Salesforce Marketing Cloud Social Studio—the same technology Fortune 100 companies worldwide use to publish, engage and analyze their social media marketing activities. UT has unique access to the robust social media analytic technology required for this type of research. The center was built and is operated through a fund established for the college by Brown, an alumnus of the college who is now executive strategist for the San Francisco-based firm Salesforce.

PSMRG, which just started its work this semester, already has a social media reach of about 2 million followers worldwide, Brotman said. The group’s work has gotten the attention of local and national media, as well as technology trade publications.

Brotman said the debate monitoring project has given students tremendous hands-on experience with the type of leading-edge technology they’ll encounter in the work world.  It’s prepared them to think on their feet and helped them polish their communication skills.

“We go into each session with a game plan, but the game is always changing,” said Brotman. “They have become much more agile at using the social media monitoring software and they’re much more proactive in coming up with their own search terms.”

The students have become more confident in live tweeting their results and some have gotten comfortable doing media interviews.

“They synthesize better and work more cohesively as a team,” Brotman said.

The PSMRG will monitor social media live from the WVLT television studios on election night. The students’ findings will be part of the station’s webcast and online coverage.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034 or 865-333-8128,