OTTAWA — Bungalows, bells and what was that about old-stock Canadians?
Canadians used social media during the federal leaders’ debate Thursday night to both fact-check what they were hearing and also poke a little fun and the discussion continued long after the cameras were turned off.
After Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said changes to refugee health care were something “old-stock Canadians” agreed with, Google Canada saw searches for the term start to climb, spiking nearly half an hour after the 90 minute event ended.
“It’s taken on a life of its own post-debate,” said Aaron Brindle, a spokesman for the company.
Over on Twitter, the term was quickly turned into a hashtag and while the company couldn’t provide any early metrics on how dominant it was in the social media conversation Thursday night, one blogger perhaps had a prescient view.
“So in the debate today Stephen Harper said ‘Old-Stock Canadians’ and it’s taking Twitter by storm (in that no one outside Twitter cares yet, but they might tomorrow),” Noah Arney, a B.C., resident who works in aboriginal education, wrote in a blog post.
The Liberals quickly used the remark to build a post-debate talking point of their own, making it into a short online video and calling for Harper to explain what he meant.
Whether the line was something Harper had prepared or just said off the cuff, one-liners are an essential part of a leader’s tool kit leading up to debates, as they can serve to crystallize complex policy ideas in a way that stick in people’s minds. The Conservatives have had success with this in other formats, namely their “just not ready” line for Trudeau.
But they have also proved useful for social media messaging, as they fit well with the limits that medium places on how much information can be shared at once. The NDP and Liberals both quickly turned their respective leaders’ quotes into easy-to-share digital postcards Thursday as part of their online campaigns to “win” the debate.
Rather than focus on snappy lines, however, Elizabeth May used social media to just get into the debate.
After being excluded from the Globe and Mail’s event, the Green party leader decided she’d participate anyway, using Twitter to post videos in rebuttal and raise other issues over the course of the evening. Data provided by the social networking site suggested it was her talking points that gained the most traction.
“Twitter gives a voice to everyone and (May’s) using it in a really creative way to be able to interact with this debate,” said Christopher Doyle, the director of media partnerships at Twitter.
Videos she made on renewable energy, poverty and student debt were the most retweeted messages linked explicitly to the wide-ranging debate, the second leaders’ meeting so far in this campaign.
She wasn’t the only one trying to edge her way into the social media conversation; the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions was among several groups using the #GlobeDebate tag to get their own issues onto the radar.
Whether the debate helped move voters any closer to a ballot box decision is unknown, but it did help May win more online interest overall. Twitter said she gained nearly four thousand new followers Thursday alone.
But people were also eager to understand more about what the three leaders were talking about, with the most popular searches being for past prime minister R.B. Bennett after he was mentioned and the word loophole after NDP Leader Tom Mulcair brought that up as part of the discussion on taxes.
A reference by Mulcair to the cost of a bungalow in Vancouver or Toronto saw searches of that trend, too.
And of course, there was the bell, or as many referred to it, the egg timer.
More than 1,000 tweets mentioned the intrusive ding sound used to signal the end of a particular session and eventually, it received its own Twitter account.
It’s all part of what Twitter brings to the election conversation said Doyle.
“There is this shared experience and commentary that happens on the platform.”