And Now a Word from the President
President Trump so frequently uses Twitter to get his message out that some pundits have called him the Tweeter-in-Chief. Whether one likes him or not, the president’s tweets provide a window into his thinking, policy decisions, and personnel changes.
Humphreys (2016) noted that self-disclosure allows an online user to reveal information about oneself to others. While his communication style may alienate many Americans, Trump’s die-hard supporters love his tweets. A New York Times columnist observed, “They revel in the thumb in the eye” (Chira, 2017, para. 2) that his online attacks bring.
By some accounts, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not learn of his official dismissal before Trump posted about it on Twitter. In July 2017, the president announced his decision to ban transgender service members from the military via tweet. USA Today reports the news caught the Pentagon off-guard.
In their book, Network Propaganda, authors Benkler, Faris, and Roberts (2018) wrote, “Trump’s use of Twitter has been one of the defining facets of his presidency” (p. 18). The authors argued that Trump uses the medium as a means of wielding power. Self-presentation theory suggests “that we are always presenting ourselves for a perceived audience” (Humphreys, 2016, p. 85). With almost 60 million followers, Trump has a massive audience at his fingertips. By tweeting, he bypasses the media altogether and communicates directly to the people. Controlling information is a primary goal of self-presentation (Cunningham, 2014).
While he may not need the media to disseminate his message, the press serves to amplify his tweets by reporting on them. Not a day goes by without a presidential tweet receiving media attention. In doing so, Trump effectively inserts himself into the media spotlight with just a few keystrokes on his phone.
Coinciding with the president’s tweets is the First Lady’s “Be Best” campaign targeting cyberbullying. Humphreys (2016) defined cyberbullying as “the practice of socially or physically intimidating someone online” (p. 98). This act can include spreading rumors, taunting, or name-calling.
The New York Times has a running list of 567 people, places, and things that Trump has insulted on Twitter. It begins with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (“a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”) and ends on Mort Zuckerman, the owner of The New York Daily News (“dopey clown”).
Trump and the Media
The press is a frequent target of the president’s ire. As of January 30, the president had sent 1,339 tweets criticizing the mainstream media, who he regularly brands “the enemy of the people” (Sugars, 2019).
While attacks on his perceived enemies occupy a decent chunk of the president’s tweets, he also takes time to curate stories from his favorite news program. Fox & Friends has been called “TV’s dumbest news show,” but that hasn't stopped the commander-in-chief from regularly live tweeting its right-wing propaganda to his followers. In Cunningham’s (2014) collection of essays on impression management, Rosenbaum, Johnson, Stepman, and Nuijten wrote about how people use social networking sites with a goal of “selecting the best information about themselves and putting that positive face forward to others” (p. 38). In December, he tweeted:
Even though the show regularly promotes conspiracy theories and is not taken seriously outside of the Fox News echo chamber, Fox & Friends has become one of the most powerful programs on cable because of Trump’s megaphone.
As a journalist, I like that the president speaks to the people directly through Twitter. I believe many of his tweets are newsworthy, and former press secretary Sean Spicer stated his tweets are an official communiqué. As Recode observed, perhaps that is why Twitter does not punish the president for violating its terms of service. The microblogger’s user guidelines stipulate no “threats of violence” (Wagner, 2017), but Trump’s account received no sanctions after this 2017 tweet threatening Pyongyang:
While it may appeal to his base, I am not alone in thinking that the president's constant attacks on the media are tedious. Those are the words that dictators and authoritarian regimes use to describe the press. Instead, I think he should consider redirecting his online efforts in a more positive direction. Perhaps someone with 106 million followers (46 million more than Trump) might have an effective strategy he could emulate – @BarackObama. However, given Trump's disdain for the former president, I don’t think he’ll change his approach anytime soon. Besides, he views his social media strategy positively:
Instead of attacking people or coming off as whining about the Democrats or the Mueller investigation, why not keep the message focused on policy? At the very least, he should eighty-six the childish name-calling. It may have been tolerable when he was a civilian, but it only degrades the office he now occupies.
Still, if I were to offer just one piece of advice to President Trump regarding his use of social media, it would be this: #BeBest.