Depending on how you look at it, Big Bird and Jim Lehrer — both longtime PBS standard-bearers — were either big winners or big losers, driving the majority of chatter on Google, Twitter and Facebook. 

The huge number of people who use all three networks — Facebook alone announced this week that one in seven people worldwide are users, and Google is the most popular search engine in the world — provides a good indication of what people will be talking about Thursday regarding the debate.

Big Bird made the list of top topics during the debate on all three. Lehrer contributed to four of Twitter's traffic highs and also appeared on Facebook's list of top conversation topics for the evening. 


Image courtesy of Twitter.

Obama's team, well aware of the importance of post-debate conversation, sought to guide Twitter with a promoted trend on Thursday. Obama owns the top topic, the hashtag #ForwardNotBack, on the current list of top 10 topics being discussed on Twitter. The morning after the debate, the list still includes Big Bird and PBS.

Romney's team owned the top trend on Wednesday, the day of the event. Twitter allows only one promoted trend per day, so Romney’s campaign likely reserved the spot well in advance for the first debate. According to Ad Age, promoted trends sell for between $100,000 and $120,000.

According to Google, the top four terms people searched for on Google during the debates were Simpson-Bowles, Dodd-Frank, "who is winning the debate" and Big Bird.


Image courtesy of Google.

Facebook also reported interest in jobs, taxes, ObamaCare and insurance. Facebook mentions of Romney were 11 percent higher than those of Obama, the network said.

According to Twitter, Romney's reference to Big Bird, while discussing federal subsidies he would eliminate as president, and several of the candidates' sharper exchanges with Lehrer prompted some of the highest traffic on the social network. The debate overall drove more traffic than any other political event in Twitter history.

The most-tweeted moment of the evening, according to Twitter's analysis, came shortly before 10 p.m. Eastern Time, with 158,690 tweets sent in a single minute following moderator Lehrer's "Let's not" reply to Romney. 

Lehrer, who rarely spoke during the debate and seemed concerned with his inability to guide the candidates or limit the amount of time they spoke, cut off Romney when the GOP nominee said, "Let's talk about —" 

"Let's not," Lehrer interrupted.

Updated at 10:20 a.m.