Here's how Twitter reacted to the Iowa Brown & Black Forum

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Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley were asked a lot of questions they hadn't heard before at Fusion's presentation of the Iowa Brown & Black Forum, where presidential candidates respond to issues that matter to Latino and African-American voters.

We wanted to know which moments—questions and answers alike—resonated most with viewers. So, with some help from MIT's Laboratory for Social Machines, we analyzed the most common phrases on Twitter. We cataloged every tweet that mentioned a moderator, an organizer, or the hashtag #demforum.

Here's what we found.

White privilege

Twitter users were particularly interested in a question that Drake University student Thalia Anguiano asked Clinton: "Can you tell us what the term 'white privilege' means to you? And can you give me an example from your life or career when you think you have benefitted from it?" The phrase "white privilege" appeared 228 times in forum-related tweets as viewers debated how well she handled the question.


Criminal justice

Given the vastly disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos incarcerated in the United States, along with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, reforming America's criminal justice system was a particularly salient issue at the forum. And the candidates discussed it extensively. The phrase "criminal justice" appears 14 times in the event's transcript and 51 times in our tweet sample.

Twitter users were equally vocal about their opinions on this issue.



Sexual assault

Nearly one in four undergraduate women report sexual assault, and less than 28% of the most serious incidents are reported, so the safety of college students on campus has become an increasingly urgent national concern. The candidates talked about it, and many people responded on Twitter, where the phrase "sexual assault" appeared 50 times.

2/2 candidates (O'Malley and Sanders) call for campus sexual assault policies, but fail to offer specifics. Counting on you, Hil. #DemForum

— Olivia O'Hea (@OliviaOHea) January 12, 2016


Immigration reform

Especially because of plans on the Republican side, immigration reform has been at the forefront of the presidential race. It was also an important topic at the Brown & Black Forum because of its importance to the communities the forum was established to serve. The words "immigration reform" appeared 45 times in our Twitter sample.

All the candidates expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform.


We saw other immigration-related phrases in the Twitter conversation, none more popular than "deport children," which appeared 49 times. The phrase originated in a question that Fusion's Jorge Ramos posed to Hillary Clinton:


The phrase "due process" also came up 31 times, referencing part of Clinton's response. Unlike most tweets that contained the words "deport children," these comments were more supportive of her agenda:

#DemForum @HillaryClinton believes in humane due process. Unlike @MartinOMalley who thinks he should ignore law. Solve reason behind influx

— Krisellyn (@Krisellyn) January 12, 2016


'High School Musical'

Bonus question: Each candidate was asked a series of lighthearted rapid-fire questions, but only one candidate's (lack of) response forced moderator Akilah Hughes to break out in song. O'Malley was asked whether he borrowed a stump speech catchphrase, "We're all in this together," from Disney's "High School Musical." (He didn't.) Needless to say, folks on Twitter were aghast that the 52-year-old former Maryland governor was unfamiliar with the 2006 made-for-TV musical. The phrase "high school" appeared 27 times in our tweet sample.


Top Phrase Counts

white privilege228
criminal justice51
sexual assault50
deport children49
immigration reform45
white terrorism43
middle class37
reproductive rights35
radical idea32
daughter works31
privilege question29
hyde amendment29
prison pipeline28
gun control28
high school27
inevitable candidate26
border security26
central america25
college pipeline25
social justice25
death gangs23
death penalty23
black community23

Prashanth Vijayaraghavan and Soroush Vosoughi of MIT's Laboratory for Social Machines contributed data and analysis to this report.

Daniel McLaughlin is a creative technologist exploring the 2016 presidential election. Before joining Fusion, Daniel worked at the Boston Globe and graduated from MIT with a BS in urban studies and planning.


Kate Stohr is a data journalist and community builder based in San Francisco, CA.

Sam Lavigne is a hacker and artist from NYU's ITP program who is spearheading data projects around the 2016 presidential election for Fusion.