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Fox News' #Dodge #Answer Feedback Loop Flops In #IowaDebate

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, December 15 2011

Following in the footsteps of Yahoo and ABC News, who as I noted earlier gave viewers the opportunity to offer live feedback during last Saturday's Republican presidential debate, Fox News offered something similar during the Sioux Falls debate on December 15. "Weigh in! Are the candidates answering the questions?" Fox asked on its live page for the event. "During the debate, Tweet with the candidate name and either #answer or #dodge. And watch how the audience responds live." Twenty minutes into the event, moderator Bret Baier even mentioned this option on live TV, something that the ABC moderators failed to do until pretty late in the evening.

While this produced tens of thousands of live tweets--at least 45,000 using one of those tags by the mid-point of the debate, and well over 110,000 a few minutes before the debate was over, according to the This or That tracker--it didn't produce any meaningful feedback of note. As you can see from this screenshot, the resulting data is essentially a fake popularity contest, one that has more to do with the strength of each candidate's online constituency than anything else. Ron Paul, who has a very active online base, is the only candidate with a majority of "#answer" tweets rather than "#dodges." (And his meter tilted higher after his lengthy tirade against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.) Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, each of whom has a lively following online, follow close behind. There's no indication what people actually think about any particular topic or response. Nor do we even have a sense of how many people are tweeting about each candidate (though that data is open to anyone with their own Twitter tracking tools or access to the "firehose").

So, I have to grade this experiment in inviting live viewer feedback a flop by Fox. The idea of inviting people to use tags like #dodge and #answer is a good one, however, and maybe if someone (Twitter?) runs the data afterwards they'll be able to tell us what the viewers were saying about particular responses by particular candidates. But in real-time, as displayed by Fox online, this information isn't usable. Which means there's no way to tell the candidates (via the moderators) that the audience isn't satisfied with a particular answer, and to get them to clarify or at least get the moderators to probe further.

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