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Debate Prep: How to Join In the Fun [UPDATED]

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, September 25 2008

We're not sure if there's going to be a presidential debate tomorrow night or not, but either way it can't hurt to highlight some of the ways viewers can participate in advance or during the actual event:

1. MySpace is presenting "MyDebates: The Official Online Companion to the 2008 Presidential Debates," in conjunction with the Commission on Presidential Debates which, it must be noted, is a private corporation set up by the two major parties to control the fall debates. While the actual input via MySpace to the actual debate will be minimal (starting today you can email in proposed questions for moderator Tom Brokaw to possibly use at the October 7 "town-hall" style debate), MySpace is making online lemonade from the lemons the Commission gave it. You can sign-up as a friend of MyDebates and rank issues by their importance, and MySpace offers an interactive state-by-state map showing how the community is thinking. Right now, about 6,000 people have checked in, and the map shows Obama with a huge lead among MySpace users (no surprise). When you look at the issues breakdown, it's interesting to discover that MySpace users generally don't care very much about same-sex marriage (a sign that the issue has lost its bite, perhaps, except in places like CA where its on the ballot this fall). I'd include direct links but the site doesn't offer any. As more people chime in, these charts, and the forums beneath them, will be interesting too watch. Unfortunately, though, it's all for show since the CPD has rejected all calls to actually involve the public in the debate process directly.

2. Free Press, a media democracy group that we like, has launched, which is inviting people to watch the debates with a scorecard in hand to help them track how well the candidates are addressing media and internet-related issues, and then the group says, "We’ll tally your response along with thousands of others and inject our people-powered feedback into the news cycle -- before the mainstream media pundits and spin doctors (mis)interpret the event." It's a smart way to make a national event like the debates into a group-building exercise.
UPDATE: More than 7,000 people have already signed up to participate at, and Free Press has partnered with noted media analyst Andrew Tyndall to use the online ratings to provide instant and meaningful analysis of the public's response. "We leave it to the spin-meisters to try to persuade us whether their candidate got his nose in front in the horse race," said Tyndall. "Our scorecard is an exercise in democracy. Which issues were overhyped and which were overlooked? Which leadership attributes of each candidate were addressed and which ignored? How about moderator Jim Lehrer's journalistic performance? Did he truly help us understand what is at stake in this election?"

3. Our good friend David Colarusso has launched a call to "Change the Debate" by inviting people to post and vote on video questions for the candidates, using the terrific platform he built for Community Counts and 10Questions. Definitely join in!

4. Snark-meister and all-around funny guy David Weinberger has posted an invitation to join in a live IRC chat during the Friday night debate. Details here.

5. UPDATE My apologies to the folks at Current for leaving this out! They're doing something really fun with Twitter tonight, that they call Hack the Debate. Essentially, anyone who tweets using the hashtag #current will see their comment run alongside a live video stream of the debate, from the Current website. Actually, not every tweet will run there (I'm assuming they're filtering the content somehow), but you can see them all on Twitter here.

Know about other debate interventions? Post a comment below.