Good evening, my fellow tweepsFive ways to use Twitter to make the most of an election debate

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Twitter election debate

Let's be honest: election debates are usually pretty awful for voters.

They get to passively endure an hour or two of overrehearsed talking points, dodged questions and set-piece arguments... washed down with the kind of analysis that usually boils down to "So, who won?" (In a few hours, Canadians will do just that, as they watch the first of two debates among the leaders of the four parties with seats in Parliament.)

There may be a few merciful bright spots — some fact-checking here and there, for instance — and maybe even some surprises. But on the whole, the debate experience is usually tedious — and in the social media era, it's a prehistoric relic. 

But this time around, a lot of prospective voters have a tool that wasn't at their fingertips in past elections: Twitter. And if you're planning on tuning in, here are five ways you can use Twitter to turn the debate into something a lot more useful and interesting.

You may not be able to knock the pols out of their message boxes — but you can convene and join an actual conversation about the issues you care about. Here are five ways to start doing that:

  • Create your own panel of experts - or several panels - using Twitter lists. Use Twitter's people search or a service like Listorius to find your experts. (This is an idea that came up in an interview Postmedia's Misty Harris conducted with me this morning, and she deserves credit for getting me to think along these lines.)
  • Well in advance of the debate, search Twitter for people who disagree with you, and follow a few who are smart, thought-provoking and civil. (Don't want to follow them? Create a Twitter list and call it something like "Other views".) You'll broaden your perspective and get to consider some new ideas — and even If you're a dyed-in-the-w00t partisan, you'll still gain a sense of what the other side is saying and be ready to counter it.
  • Chances are this is going to be a firehose of tweeting, which Twitter's web site isn't really great for following. Instead, use a Twitter client like HootSuite, Tweetdeck or Seesmic, and follow your lists in separate columns. Add another column for the debate hashtag #db8.
  • Location of Display Retweets button
  • If you are using to follow the debate tweeting, some good news: they let you turn off retweets from individual users. So if there's a particular user you're following who's cluttering your feed with retweet after retweet, just head over to their profile and click the green retweet button so that it's greyed out.
  • One more tip for users: get a picture of your local discussion by selection the "Tweets near you" tab.

And, of course, once you're following the conversation, join in with your own questions, ideas, thoughts, reactions and options.

Hey, fellow Canadians - any other ideas before the first debate begins?



AtoimicNoggin says

April 12, 2011 - 1:13pm

Three words hashtags: #elxn41 #db8 #drinkinggamerules

Rob Cottingham says

April 12, 2011 - 2:07pm

That last one is already coming in handy.

Kelly says

May 12, 2011 - 5:29am

Great perspective and great tips...Thanks!

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