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2020 presidential debate memes: Who muted the mute button?

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off for the final time, but the much-promised mute button seemed to have gone missing.

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's coverage of the voting in November and its aftermath.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in Nashville Thursday night for their final debate before the election. After a torrent of interruptions turned the first debate chaotic, 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 on 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 got two minutes to answer a question, and during that time, the other was muted. At points, there was opportunity for crosstalk, but there was no real discretionary mute button per se. 

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

But that didn't stop viewers from imagining who might have really been behind the button, and suggesting they weren't doing their job aggressively enough. Was it Baby Yoda on button duty? SpongeBob SquarePants? Aaron Burr? Maybe! 

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

More muting wanted

Regardless of how the rules said the button would be used, social media wanted more of it. "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