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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.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
2 min read
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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

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