Donald Trump was an avid Twitter user during his campaign for the U.S. presidency, and in his nearly three weeks in office, he hasn’t stopped. While most of Trump’s 24.4 million followers like the immediacy the commander in chief’s tweets provide, others are more critical.
“I don’t think there’s any connection between immediacy and sincerity. I think immediacy is overrated. It may be times when it’s absolutely necessary, but most of what President Trump tweets should be delayed and should be given more thought,” Theodore Glasser, professor of communication at Stanford University, told VOA.
“Do I love the different tweets that Trump has been putting out … absolutely not,” said Scott Goodstein, founder and chief executive officer of Revolution Messaging, a digital communications strategy company.
But as someone who’s spent the past decade pioneering digital strategy and technology for political campaigns, Goodstein said, “I love that in America I get the ability to organize and do rapid response on platforms like Twitter … the ability for the American citizenry to ask questions, engage and be part of that conversation they weren’t part of prior to Twitter, and social media has, to me, made our country better.”
Trump explained his use of Twitter as “a way of bypassing [the] dishonest media.” He has labeled the media the “opposition party” and says he calls “his own shots largely based on an accumulation of data.”
In January, he tweeted 206 times and had about 25 million interactions — consisting of retweets, replies and likes — more than any other world leader, according to data pulled from CrowdTangle, which tracks how links are shared on social media platforms.
But he is not the first U.S. president who has tried to use the popular medium of the moment to bypass mainstream media.
Franklin D. Roosevelt used “fireside chats” on radio “to talk directly to the country, and that was done periodically and it was very effective,” Glasser said. Roosevelt led the nation through the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, and some say that by using his radio broadcasts, he was able to quell rumors and directly explain his policies.
President John F. Kennedy is considered to be one who mastered the television medium, while President Richard Nixon “went out of his way to avoid the press and didn’t have a good relationship with them,” Glasser said.
Barack Obama was the first American presidential candidate to organize on major platforms like Facebook and YouTube, along with more niche platforms like Black Planet, Asian Avenue and others, said Goodstein, who was in charge of that during Obama’s 2007 election campaign. The Obama White House used digital technology to its fullest later to disseminate information. Right now, @BarackObama has 84.4 million followers, third highest on a list kept by twitaholic.com.
The social media platform, created a little over a decade ago, had 317 million monthly active users as of the third quarter of 2016, according to statistics portal statista.com.
In Brazil, ousted President Dilma Rousseff, who has 5.7 million followers, was a great example of someone “who used the tool [Twitter] during the election and then turned it off essentially and stopped listening when they started governing; that was a huge mistake,” said Goodstein, who also worked in that country.
He said Rousseff had the ability to build a giant Twitter following during her first election, and he criticized her for “not engaging in her base voters and her general electorate … around issues of people protesting building around the Olympics when it was first announced. She had the ability to go over the media, talk directly to her citizenry. Unfortunately, she did not, and you saw these protests grow bigger and bigger.”
Rousseff has vowed to appeal what she called a “parliamentary coup,” and some of her supporters continue to call her Brazil’s only legitimate president, as shown in a recent picture posted on her Twitter page.
The feud between Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Trump continued when the U.S. president reaffirmed his campaign promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and that if Mexico wasn’t going to pay for the wall, Pena Nieto should cancel a scheduled visit in Washington a week after Trump was inaugurated.
In Mexico, after congratulating Trump and tweeting that his country would work with the U.S. to strengthen their relationship, Pena Nieto took to the same medium to inform his 6.21 million followers, and the White House shortly afterward, that he would not attend the meeting with Trump.
While some leaders have been using the medium for years and have followings in the millions, others are just starting. Newly elected Gambian President Adama Barrow announced to his 11,000 followers that he was back after going into exile in neighboring Senegal, fearing his life was in danger. Barrow defeated President Yahya Jammeh in December’s elections, but the veteran leader of 22 years did not want to cede power.
Since joining Twitter in December, Barrow has sent 62 tweets, mostly about the postelection crisis, his return home and cabinet announcements.
Since June 2016, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has tweeted only 23 times, including one retweet to his 1.59 million followers. Mostly in English and sometimes in Kinyarwanda, the posts varied but included a congratulatory message to the Cleveland Cavaliers on their National Basketball Association title last year. He revealed that as a supporter of Cleveland’s opponent, the Golden State Warriors, he was outnumbered in his house by Cavs fans.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined Twitter in 2009 and today has 27 million followers of his personal page and 16 million of the PM office’s page. He sent 233 tweets in January. Although not all tweets generate responses, he had about 2.8 million interactions.
The subjects of his tweets in English and Hindi have varied; he has asked for people’s thoughts about his new personal app, shared pictures of rallies he’s attended in Ghaziabad, and discussed such issues as demonetization, sanitation coverage in rural areas and defense of the sanctity of institutions above politics. He’s one of a few leaders who reply to their followers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s English-language page shows he sent about 15 tweets in January, and subjects included a conversation with Trump and a videoconference in which he was briefed on tests of a new jet fighter.
All the tweets have links to the official Kremlin website for longer articles. He has 489,000 followers on the page’s English version and 3.59 million on the official Kremlin page, which tweets in Russian.
Whether one’s followers are in the millions or hundreds, people don’t always engage with every tweet. Goodstein said there are also problems Twitter needs to address, including spam, robot tweets and idle accounts. But he also said the Twittersphere is engaged enough that those who tweet authentically will be able to draw others into conversations.
The biggest mistake that politicians make on Twitter is that they want to use it as “a one-way communication and forget the word ‘social,’ ” Goodstein said. The medium is not meant to be used as a public relations device to send out old-fashioned press releases, he said.
Glasser said Twitter has a place in the political landscape but cautioned that it’s dangerous to use in matters of diplomacy. For example, he said, “it’s not a useful tool for announcing policy. One hundred forty characters doesn’t provide enough room for context, nuance and sophistication that public diplomacy requires.”