Nice! Sad! Unfunny! Trump’s Twitter diplomacy
He follows just 40 people, mostly his own hotels. His policies come in 140 characters. He attacks everyone from China to Alec Baldwin. What is up with the future president’s Twitter account?
‘I think it helped me win,’ Donald Trump said of Twitter in his first interview after being elected president of the United States. Throughout his campaign, he had regularly turned to social media to mock his opponents, boast about his achievements, and respond to rumours. By the time he was elected, he had over 14 million followers. But now it was time to get serious: ‘I’m going to be very restrained, if I use it at all.’
And yet in the four weeks since then, the tweets of @realDonaldTrump have started rows with The New York Times, the cast of the musical Hamilton, the satirical sketch show Saturday Night Live (SNL), the British ambassador, the Cuban government, CNN, China, SNL again (after they mocked him for spending too much time on Twitter), and China — again.
That is not all. Trump has announced major economic and foreign policies via the social media platform. He has falsely claimed that ‘millions’ of people voted ‘illegally’. When he outlined his first 100 days as president, he did not call a press conference — he released a Twitter video. Journalists have been left scrambling to keep up.
In many ways, this makes Trump a very modern president. Twitter lets him speak directly to voters, in easy soundbites without intervention from mainstream news organisations. His raw style was refreshing to many people, especially when compared to Hillary Clinton’s carefully polished tone.
But Trump’s tweets could also cause him a lot of trouble on the international stage. Over the weekend his comments about Taiwan, and later China’s economic policies, caused diplomatic outrage. Even if his intentions are good, diplomacy is a complex business; condensing thoughts into 140 characters can lead to misunderstandings. And there is no one to restrain him if he cannot restrain himself.
Twitter also allows lies to spread like wildfire. Fake news and echo chambers have already been blamed for dividing America. Many see Trump as the embodiment of both these trends.
The viral president
Rubbish! Trump’s Twitter style is unconventional — but it could be great for democracy, say some. He speaks directly to the people. His opinions are raw and unfiltered, free from the evasive political language that irritates so many voters. Instead, Trump expresses his thoughts in a concise and shareable format. And Twitter allows his critics to respond to him directly.
False! say others. Since his election Trump has cut out the mainstream media and blocked people who dared to question him. This is extremely worrying for someone who is known to be a compulsive liar, as it makes it harder for journalists to fact-check his statements properly. Trump is little more than a digital despot.
- Should Trump give up Twitter once he is president?
- Has social media been good for politics?
- Imagine that you have been elected leader of your country. Write five tweets outlining what you plan to do next.
- Choose one of Donald Trump’s tweets since he was elected president. Write a news article, in the style of The Day, about what happened next.
Some People Say...
“If the press would cover me accurately & honorably, I would have far less reason to “tweet.” Sadly, I don’t know if that will ever happen!”@realDonaldTrump
What do you think?
Q & A
- Everyone knows Twitter is full of rubbish.
- Sometimes, it still matters. Around 62% of American adults get their news from social media. And Trump has been very hostile to the mainstream media, which he says is biased against him. Twitter removes the traditional barriers between his words and the people. If it becomes his main source of communication, those words will matter more than ever.
- Is Trump the first president to use social media this way?
- Yes and no. Obama was the first president to really embrace Twitter, and many believed that it helped him to win, just like Trump. But even he treated Twitter with far more caution. As president, Obama’s account was mostly run by his staff, with occasional personal comments. Policy announcements were more likely to be found in nuanced speeches.
- 14 million
- It has since grown to 16.7 million, as of last night.
- Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 2.2 million votes in the popular vote. (He will be president because he won the electoral college, which is based on how many states are won.) Trump claimed that he would have won the popular vote if not for widespread voter fraud, but there is no evidence that this took place.
- Although the island governs itself, the Chinese government still claim ownership over it. For several decades, US presidents have avoided interacting with Taiwan as a separate state.
- Economic policies
- Trump accused China of unfairly manipulating its currency and heavily taxing American imports.
- Fake news
- False news was published on both sides throughout the campaign. But data journalists say that the most popular stories were usually pro-Trump or anti-Clinton.
- Echo chambers
- This is when the opinions you read on social media are overwhelmingly written by people you already agree with.
- Compulsive liar
- The fact-checking service Politifact says 70% of Trump’s statements are false or mostly false.