DENVER - Social networks lit up Wednesday as users argued over who emerged as the key character from Wednesday's first president debate. The candidates? Forget it - most attention focused on moderator Jim Lehrer, or the cherished children's TV character Big Bird. Here are some of key online trends from the night:
-BIG BIRD: As Republican Mitt Romney pledged to cut funding to PBS - adding, "I like PBS, I love Big Bird" - commenters on Twitter leaped to the defense of their favorite "Sesame Street" characters. Big Bird was a major Twitter trend throughout the night, while Oscar the Grouch and Bert and Ernie also featured. Twitter said that shortly after Romney's remarks, users were posting 17,000 tweets per minute mentioning Big Bird. A spoof Twitter account, (at)firedbigbird, quickly won thousands of followers, while others shared a jokey, doctored photo showing the character posing with a cardboard sign pleading for work.
-JIM LEHRER: Viewers commenting online quickly turned on the performance of moderator Jim Lehrer, lambasting him as too lenient on candidates who were eager to push the limits of their allotted speaking slots. Some compared Lehrer with the replacement officials called up during the strike by National Football League referees. Poor Jim trended as a phrase worldwide, while one user of the website Reddit described him as having been "steamrollered" by the candidates.
-ZINGERS: Viewers were waiting for Romney's prepared "zingers," questioning whether the Republican's rehearsed lines would be punchy or well-delivered. As debate raged on whether Romney's "Big Bird" line qualified, the candidate took aim at President Barack Obama during an exchange on education: "Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not to your own facts," Romney said. Users on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit gave a mixed verdict: Some thought the line was a home run, others said the jab fell flat.
-47 PERCENT: In the build-up to the debate, viewers online urged Obama to raise the hidden-camera video in which Romney was seen discussing the "47 percent" of Americans he said didn't pay taxes and saw themselves as victims. Afterwards, some took to social networks to criticize Obama for a missed opportunity, while others saw the move as a crafty tactic on the president's part - likely making many of Romney's prepared responses redundant.
-LAPEL BADGE: In the opening stages of the debate, social media users pondered aloud about an apparent dark blemish on Romney's lapel pin, speculating that it was a Republican elephant or even a tribute to Americans killed in last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. There was an online sigh of recognition as it was confirmed that the dark spot was in fact the Secret Service logo, a star.