The first Presidential Debate of 2016 kicked off last night. But the action wasn’t just happening on the TV.

It was happening on phones, tablets, computers. People weren’t just watching, they were sharing, tweeting, and debating among themselves.

Thanks to the Bitly Network, we had a unique vantage point into how people interacted with candidate websites and what kinds of stories gained traction on Facebook the next day.

Here’s what we found before, during, and the morning after the debate:

A Multi-Device Debate

To start, we pulled all the decode data that was directed to and That means we took a look at all the clicks on all Bitly links (Bitlinks) that went to these two domains on September 26.

The numbers show a clear spike when people started getting ready for the debate. It’s not easy to compare decode numbers directly, because Donald Trump doesn’t use as many Bitlinks as Hillary Clinton when directing traffic to his website.

It’s more interesting to look at the numbers separately:

hclintonclicks saw a slow but steady increase in engagement throughout the day. At the end of the debate, people clearly turned to the website for more details about her policies and, possibly, to donate.

At 11pm EST, we saw the peak of 81,459 clicks across the Bitly Network. There was a noticeable increase around 10pm EST as well. We can see that the interest in Clinton spiked in the early morning hours the day of the debate, too, which indicates that there was a lot of activity around Bitlinks as the day started.


Engagement around remained relatively flat, until people started clicking Bitlinks a few hours before the debate. Interestingly, our data shows that the peak engagement on the site from the Bitly Network was at 7pm EST, when clicks reached 38,110. We suspect this means that one really popular story or press release drove people to the site.

What we find interesting here is that the clicks to didn’t see the same kind of spike as the clicks to at the end of the debate. People were visiting the website before and during the debate more than right after.

This could have something to do with the fact that Hillary Clinton, during the debate, promoted her website several times at key moments. So anyone with a phone started looking at the site as the debate was still happening.

As we’ve discussed before, the customer experience is multichannel. Here, we see that people were constantly looking at their phones and tablets as they watched the debate, engaging with candidate websites in real-time.

The Post-Debate Morning: The Big Stories

A lot of major news organizations use Bitlinks to share stories across social networks and, by looking at the engagement data across six major news networks yesterday morning, we can actually see the how voters woke up and started searching for more information on the topics that concerned them.

Here were the five major trends we noticed on Facebook:

1. Everyone is Fact-Checking the Candidates

With the Internet just a thumb swipe away, it’s extremely easy to research the real story behind anything a candidate says. And that demand played out this morning – the most-shared story topic was all about fact-checking.

Fact-checking was the most popular topic among four out of the six major news networks. These were round-ups of the most controversial statements that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said.

The top news network saw a fact-checking round-up get more than 100,000 clicks on Facebook.

2. Trump’s Microphone’s Problems

When Trump sniffed, the Internet listened. Or, at least, was interested in reading about it. One major news network wrote not just one, but two stories about the sniffling. The first was clicked more than 60,000 times on Facebook and the other was clicked more than 15,000 times.

3. Lester Holt

Moderator Lester Holt was a subject of one major news network in particular. Two different articles were written about whether Holt was biased when moderating the debate. This was a popular topic on Twitter, where there were almost 10,000 clicks.

4. The Hilary Shimmy

Hilary’s shoulder shimmy during the debate caught an unusual amount of attention, too. In fact, it was the most popular story for one major news network, seeing nearly 50,000 clicks on Facebook.

5. The Winner

Some people just wanted to read stories about who actually won the debate. After fact-checking, the most popular stories of two major publishers had to do with the ultimate winners.

A piece that gathered expert opinions about the winner was clicked 48,000 times on Facebook. A definitive piece about the winner on a news network was clicked 71,345 times on Facebook.

Understanding the Life Cycle of an Event

Looking at the data across the Bitly Network for both candidate websites and specific news networks gives us a picture of how people interact with Presidential Debates on other devices.

If anything, this proves that the debate itself is the centerpiece of a much more complex journey as voters look up candidate policies, find stories on Facebook, and continue to research who they’ll be voting for on November 8.