US election

Twitter Trump Becomes President

By December 12, 2016 No Comments

Donald Trump’s Twitter habits have received much attention globally, and it appears that he intends to continue Tweeting as President of the United States. His Twitter persona would bring a new facet to the White House that we haven’t seen before.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, recently reacted to Trump’s Tweeting with cautious wonder:

“The complicated part, is just what does this mean to have a direct line to how he’s thinking in real time and to see that. […] Having the president-elect on our service, using it as a direct line of communication, allows everyone to see what’s on his mind in the moment. I think that’s interesting, I think it’s fascinating, I haven’t seen that before.”

But millions of users exhibit similar behavior on the social media platform, and Trump wouldn’t be the first President to directly use Twitter. President Barack Obama has two Twitter accounts that are carefully managed to ensure that there is little confusion about where the Tweets are coming from, and what purpose they serve.

@POTUS is the official account of the President and has about 12 million followers. Before that, the Obama administration had already created the handle @whitehouse, becoming the first administration to use the social media tool, but the Tweets were not directly from President Obama. @POTUS Tweeted for the first time in May of 2015.

Control of @POTUS will be transferred to the Trump administration after the inauguration. The current Tweets on the account will be moved to another account, the still inactive @POTUS44, and become part of the official records of the Obama presidency archived with the National Archives and Records Administration.

The other Twitter account is Barack Obama’s campaign account, @BarackObama with about 80 million followers. It Tweeted for the first time in April of 2007 during in the early stages of Obama’s 2008 campaign, just a year after Twitter was created. The account clearly distinguishes between what comes directly from the President, which is signed -bo, and what is tweeted by staff. Tellingly, the first Tweet was about the war in Iraq.

Donald Trump joined Twitter in 2009 and now has about 17 million followers, many of whom enthusiastically engage with his Tweets in real time. During the campaign, his use of Twitter deliberately blurred the line between what came directly from him, and what came from staff, leading to a cottage industry of analyzing the patterns of his Tweets. Speculation ran rampant over why some Tweets came from an Android device, which tended to be angrier and use less images and hashtags, while others were from an iPhone or web client. 

Trump’s Tweets have received a significant amount of attention, and he uses that to his advantage in ways that often appear impulsive. For example, following the press reaction to his phone call with the President of Taiwan, Trump used Twitter as a rapid response tool to blunt the story. 

At other times, Trump has used Twitter to lash out at critics, including often the press, or media outlets. His Tweets, such as his direct attack on a local union boss in Indiana yesterday, have prompted accusations of recklessness and cyberbullying. When the popular Saturday comedy show Saturday Night Live needled Trump about his use of Twitter he swiftly responded in a Tweet. The pragmatic pattern is clear: if Trump has a reason to praise you or a reason to attack you, he will.

Trump’s use of Twitter is not particularly innovative. He uses the tool in the same way many others do, which is to bypass traditional media avenues and speak directly to followers and the world, often unfiltered. He has, used it as a way of issuing statements that traditionally might have been in a press release, but now are sent out in a string of Tweets instead. The statements are then amplified by the press because what the President-Elect chooses to say is often imbued with news-worthiness simply because of who is making the statement. 

In a recent Tweet, Trump openly addressed the criticism he has received for his Tweeting. 

What is new, is that Trump will be bringing his style and habits of Tweeting to the presidency, although it is not clear yet how Trump will choose to continue Tweeting once he takes office on January 20th. Under President Obama and past presidents, the White House has sought to publicly project a measured, elevated tone, that under. That stands in contrast to Trump’s Twitter persona.

The difference between Tweeting as a private citizen, albeit a celebrity, and Tweeting as the next President may also simply still be new to Trump. Tactics he used to win the moment before, are suddenly given far more gravity, especially in foreign policy. This demonstrates that one of the basic rules of communications – that all communications are not equal because that depends on who is saying it – is just as true on Twitter, as it is elsewhere.

For example, Trump has used Twitter to attack China on numerous occasions in the past, and as a candidate before winning the election, with few consequences. Then, last week, Trump lashed out at China again following his phone call with the President of Taiwan.

In the Tweets, Trump was seeking to provide those who voted for him a public demonstration that he meant it when he promised that he would take on China . But when done by the President-Elect, Tweets like this, just like other communications, are suddenly a long way from the original definition of the word Twitter used by the founders of the service: “a short burst of inconsequential information”.

By Alex Lange, JKL Political Analyst