Twitter was one of the big stories to come out of the two party conventions this year. It acted as an amplifier of news moments and a forum for instantaneous punditry. It will perform the same role during tonight’s presidential debate, the first of the 2012 race. But there will be much more.

What used to be a television event will now be a multi-screen social event with millions of people sharing their unsolicited opinions by the minute, news organizations illustrating the highlights in gifs, and tens of thousands of serious thinkers taking shots every time one of the candidates says “middle class.” Here’s how it will break down.

YouTube > TV

First the first time, YouTube will livestream the debate. Sure, a lot of other organizations – news organizations, especially – will be streaming it too. But with YouTube it’s different. The video platform and its open API presents opportunities for campaigns to overlay content and calls to action on the stream, if viewers happen to be watching it on one of the campaign websites. It’s likely both Romney and Obama will have “donate” links sitting on top of the video embed on their own sites. Maybe the link will even flash bright red after each major applause line.

Speaking of those campaign sites…

Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have set up special sections of their sites dedicated to the debate. Obama’s site concentrates on anticipating what Romney will argue and how viewers can call out any misleading statements by sharing facts on Twitter. They’ve even put together a snazzy explainer video for the purpose, which had just over 300 views last time I checked.

Romney’s site, meanwhile, is focusing on debate highlights and surfacing pro-Romney Tweets.

Mass debate

Facebook will be livestreaming the debate from 5pm EST and letting users pile into a comments section below the video. It has also set up a page dedicated to more discussion about the debate.

Twitter has a page of curated Tweets and opinions related to the debate, so if you don’t want to hear from your friends for the 90 minutes while Obama and Romney go at each other, you can get your unadulterated Tweetfix without hurting your brain.

Tumblr has partnered with the Guardian to present the highlights in gif form. They can thank us for gififying historic moments in past debates in a post we published a couple of days ago.

Bingo!

There are plenty of reasons to be miserable about the state of US politics, and there’s little chance anything we hear tonight will change that. To make a game of it, then, you could play the interactive bingo game set up by WNYC. Each time Romney or Obama utter one of the phrases on your card, cover the relevant tile. Once you’ve filled up the whole card, you can “yell” bingo by Tweeting out your claim to victory. The good people at WNYC have also set up the #DebateBingo Twitter hashtag as a chatroom for the debate.

Pro tip: It doesn’t take much imagination to see how Debate Bingo could be turned into a drinking game. This is likely to enhance your enjoyment of the spectacle by 47 percent.