University of New Mexico communication and journalism students on Wednesday conducted an online debate between New Mexico secretary of state candidates Republican state Rep. Nora Espinoza and Democratic Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver. The candidates participated in the Twitter Town Hall debate and tweeted over subjects like voter ID and campaign finance transparency.
New Mexico News Port sponsored the debate and gave students an opportunity to use social media in a professional context.
The debate was part of a reporting class and organized by adjunct journalism professor Kate Nash Cunningham as a way for journalism students and voters to engage with candidates.
“Twitter is kind of a new exciting format for journalists,” said Christian Marquez, a student who ran the live stream of the event. “It’s something we really push for a lot (in class) even though we’re familiar with it.”
Nash Cunningham said the format was useful for her group of student journalists.
“I think Twitter is a natural space for these students to communicate in,” Nash Cunningham said. “And right now we have an election going on, so I thought this would be a perfect space for students to interact with candidates in a way that they normally wouldn’t.”
During the debate, the class tweeted questions to the candidates, giving Espinoza and Toulouse Oliver chances to answer and to rebut. The class split work for the debate among different groups.
One group fact checked the candidate’s responses. Another team fielded questions from an audience engaging on Twitter. One group collected all of the tweets to be viewed later on Storify, a platform for archiving social media posts, and a final group live streamed all of the behind the scenes business to social media followers.
The debate started when the candidates tweeted an opening statement with a photo.
Right away, students had to keep up with the Twitter stream of the candidates’ statements.
Daniel Montaño, one of the student fact checkers was working on one of Espinoza’s reply tweets.
“In her opening statement she said that voter fraud has been found to happen in New Mexico before,” Montaño said.”However I have some documents that show the last secretary of state did a review of this and there was .02 percent of voter fraud.”
Espinoza said in a tweet that fraud isn’t extremely rare, but the prosecution and conviction of fraud was scarce.
“I sppt efforts that improve security,” Toulouse Oliver said in a tweet. “Integrity of elections but not at expense of access 2 polls or restricting right 2 vote”
Voter fraud was the topic of the day, as the candidates broke with the debate rules to send series of at each other through the internet about the subject.
The candidates also spoke briefly on campaign finance reform.
“Too many gaps in current law and system,” Toulouse Oliver said in a tweet. “I will write rules that are easy to comply with, so accurate info is reported.”
Espinoza followed up with a different response.
“I am the only candidate to propose transparency and amendments to the law,” Espinoza said. “No more personal use of funds.”
As the debate wrapped, up the mood was positive in the classroom.
“We expected it to be a little more lively,” said Skylar Griego, a student curating the debate tweets for storify. “But it’s interesting to see what the candidates have to say and how they can keep in 140 character tweets.”
In the end, the students said using social media is an interesting way to engage politics.
Angela Shen, a student who helped host the live stream coverage of the classroom, said social media is an important way to engage an audience
“I think it’s a great way for people to tune in,” Shen said. “And it’s a better way to connect, especially with the younger generation of voters.”
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