Social Media Round-up on Kenya's First Presidential Debate

This is a summary of the commentary on Twitter and Facebook (well, mostly Twitter) about Kenya's first ever presidential debate, held 11 February 2013. This summary was done for the Networked News Lab, an experiment in more collaborative approaches to journalism in Kenya. www.networkednews.org

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  1. Kenya's first ever presidential debate featured all eight aspirants : Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and James ole Kiyiapi, Paul Muite, and Mohammed Abduda Dida (the last two were included at the 11th hour following a complaint by Muite). NTV’s Linus Kaikai and Citizen TV's Julie Gichuru moderated.
  2. But long before the candidates clashed, Kenyan Twitter users waged a battle of their own - over the hashtag that would be used to keep track of the conversation. @RobertAlai, one of Kenya's most well-known bloggers, threw down the gauntlet to the official hashtag #KEdebate13.
  3. This splintered the conversation, with the rebellious ones (ironically, the majority) opting for Robert's #debate254, a reference to Kenya's calling code. There will likely be some discussion to follow about how the media houses mismanaged the social media engagement. Perhaps they should not have tried to impose a hashtag and instead should have followed the crowd - so to speak.
  4. ADDENDUM: #KEdebate13 was ultimately more popular than #debate254.
  5. Weapons of the weak, perhaps? In any case, I followed both, in addition to my own feed, which has been influenced a bit by my work with the Networked News Lab. 
  6. Meanwhile, @kenyanpundit, Google's Policy Manager for Africa, asked for help to fact-check the debate.
  7. In the morning and afternoon, Twitter flowed with commentary: quite a lot of joking, and a bit of cheer-leading for preferred candidates.
  8. Any many other people, sometimes in spite of their own cynicism, seemed to be getting excited. It's worth noting that Kenyan Twitter users, unfairly or not, have been criticized of late for complaining loudly on social media, but failing to vote or participate in other ways in politics.
  9. And @MRKabueJames captured the sentiment of many with this Tweet.
  10. Though there was some chatter about whether or not the debates might be cancelled, owing to a complaint by one of the two candidates initially left out of the line-up, there wasn't much concern amongst people on Twitter over this
  11. Reaction to the decision was mostly muted. Some complained that having eight participants would keep the answers short and superficial. Others applauded the decision.
  12. Though, as usual, there was a bit of humor about the late addition.
  13. By late afternoon, many Tweeters were admittedly off work early, and the suspense was building.
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