Facebook will help gather questions for presidential debate

Facebook will help “source” questions online for the town hall-style presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the organization behind the debates announced on Wednesday night.

Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said that anyone will be able to submit a question. There are no guarantees, however, that those questions will make it on air. The moderators of the debate, ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, will be under no obligation to use them, Brown said.

{mosads}Still, never before has the commission given moderators a formal option to gather questions from the public via the internet for a general presidential election debate, according to Brown.

A Facebook spokesperson said Thursday morning that its role is advisory and the television networks involved will decide how the questions are collected, if they are collected at all. Moderators could gather questions through their own Facebook pages, for example, or the page of their employer.

The commission has been discussing ways to incorporate questions through social media since at least April. It had previously said that half of the questions in the debate “will be posed directly by citizen participants and the other half will be posed by the moderator based on topics of broad public interest as reflected in social media and other sources.”

Questions culled from social and digital media have been used in presidential primary debates for years. CNN famously broke ground with a debate in 2007 that featured Americans asking questions through YouTube videos.

Since then, tech companies have become fixtures at the events during primary season. Google, Facebook and Twitter were all involved in primary debates this cycle and sometimes invested in lush lounges where journalists and political operatives could learn more about their tools. These efforts come as internet brands do more than ever to press their policy cases in Washington.

But the general election debates have so far lagged when it comes to incorporating the public’s input through the internet. Google, AOL and Yahoo were all involved in a digital outreach effort around the debates in 2012, but that effort was criticized for paying little more than lip service to the idea of public participation.

Facebook’s involvement in sourcing questions was announced as part of a broader set of initiatives involving tech companies at the debates.

Google and Facebook will, for example, give moderators of each debate data about what people are talking about online in advance of the events. Facebook will also be the “exclusive social media sponsor” of the first and third presidential debates.

Snapchat will cover each debate with one of its Live Story features, and Microsoft is working with “PBS NewsHour” to produce a website where the public can watch debates from previous years.

— This post was updated at 8:32 a.m.

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