presidential debate memes: Who muted the mute button?

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This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in Nashville on Thursday night for their final debate before the election. After a torrent of interruptions disrupted the first debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates stipulated that each candidate’s microphone would be muted during the other’s initial two-minute response to each topic but left live during the open discussion that followed. 

Who’s working the mute?

How did mute work exactly? Pretty straightforward. It’s not actually that there was a giant red button marked MUTE that debate moderator Kristen Welker, NBC News’ White House correspondent, could punch when the candidates talked over each other. Each candidate got two minutes to answer a question, and during that time, the other person was muted. At points, there was opportunity for crosstalk, but there was no real discretionary mute button per se. 

As the BBC notes, it’s actually a member of the production crew who works for the Commission on Presidential Debates who turned off the respective microphones at the time specified.

But that didn’t stop people on social media from imagining who might have really been behind the button, and suggesting they weren’t up to the task. Was it Baby Yoda? SpongeBob SquarePants? Aaron Burr? Maybe! 

Shared one Twitter user: “Bigfoot. Nessie. Chupracabra. Mute Button Guy. All myths!”

More muting wanted

While the mute button got much attention before and during the debate, social media users wanted a lot more of it, regardless of how the rules said it would be used. “This debate has a fever and the only prescription is more mute button,” one wrote. Wrote another, “I hoped the mute button would win the debate.”

The first debate, held on Sept. 29, was a rancorous affair filled with the interruptions that led to the microphone muting rule. President Trump, who tested positive for COVID-19, pulled out of the second debate because he wanted to debate in person, not virtually. Dueling town hall events were held instead.

Thursday’s event was the last presidential debate planned. The US presidential election is Nov. 3. Here’s everything you need to know about voting by mail, polling places and online ballots


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