Eleven years ago, as impossible as it is to imagine, we lived in a world without Twitter.
Better than a decade later, the four people who created the on-line news and social networking site couldn’t possibly have imagined how it would revolutionize our world and fundamentally alter political discourse in the United States.
Twitter allows users to interact briefly by tweeting.
These “tweets” are restricted to 140 characters and range in topic from breaking news to inspirational quotes and fitness tips.
The appeal of Twitter is not so much the ability to share thoughts in a concise manner, but rather, the global conversation you enter when you tweet. A public tweet can be searched for, read, and responded to by any one of Twitter’s 320 million active users.
This never-ending dialogue allows users to have their own platform to express their views and to hear from others who have something to say.
This free market exchange of thoughts, opinions and news hasn’t escaped the notice of oppressive regimes. It’s been banned completely in Iran, North Korea, and China. Iraq, Venezuela, and others have intermittently blocked Twitter.
In the early days of Twitter, Paul Payack and Edward Peters, writing in The Hill, described Twitter and other social media as “a ‘strategic weapon’…which have the apparent ability to re-align the social order in real time with little or no advance warning.”
Their prophetic words were reflected in the 2016 presidential campaign when, on Election Day, Twitter was the largest source of breaking news with more than 40 million election-related tweets by the time the polls had closed.
One person whom clearly understood the power of Twitter was Donald J. Trump.
Trump’s Twitter account started in 2009, mostly as an innocent mix of excerpts from his books and inspirational quotes, and was pretty clearly authored by others.
By 2011, however, Trump was regularly using Twitter’s powerful potential to connect himself directly to millions of other people. His tweets were now in his “voice” and his audience was growing exponentially.
Trump’s Tweets turned from occasional bragging about the comfort of “Trump Mattresses” to those more political in nature.
His Twitter account became flooded with comments on President Barack Obama’s country of birth and China’s currency manipulation.
These became the foundation of the message Trump took to the 2016 campaign trail and beyond.
Throughout the 2016 campaign Trump effectively used Twitter and social media to end-run the “mainstream media” and deliver his message directly to his audience, unfiltered. It was an incredibly inexpensive and largely effective method of message dissemination.
Trump boasts a Twitter following of 32 million followers and he’s written more than 35,000 tweets.
It still allows the President a direct pipeline and a way to end-run the liberal media and deliver his message directly to the American people. Ronald Reagan did much the same thing, back in the early 80’s through his mastery of television, then the most powerful media.
Trump clearly enjoys his ability to get around the hostile media. That hostility was recently exposed by none other than Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center which found that “in not one week did [coverage on Trump] drop below 70 percent negative and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak.”
Of course, Trump is not the first President to be on Twitter. President Barack Obama’s administration frequently used the @POTUS Twitter account to broadcast their message to the American people.
They used it much differently, though. The tweets from Obama were highly sanitized and rarely reflected “his voice.”
As a result, they got none of the media attention that Trump’s do. They also didn’t get him in political hot water.
Trump’s more impulsive, personal, and informal tone has allowed him to take the White House’s Twitter audience to far greater heights. It’s also made Trump’s use of Twitter highly controversial, and sometimes, harmful.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell recently told a group of reporters, “I’m not a fan of the daily tweets.”
According to a poll by Politico and Morning Consult, 59 percent of voters believe the president’s use of Twitter is a bad thing. There’s a small volume of presidential misfires on Twitter.
One recent example is reflective of the problem.
Following the recent terrorist attacks in London, Trump tweeted, “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is no reason to be alarmed!” Unfortunately, Trump had apparently taken the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s, comments out of context.
Trump drew widespread criticism for going after the Mayor whose city just undergone a terrorist attack. It was another unforced error that threw his real message out of the news cycle and replaced it with an unhelpful diversion.
Trump is going to continue to tweet, he’s made that abundantly clear.
By doing so he’ll be able to effectively deliver his message directly to the American people. The key will be for him to resist his urge to go after personalities and avenge personal slights and stick to policy.
The big triple–a major effort to re-build our highways and bridges, replace Obamacare, and enact meaningful tax reform–are big winners. By focusing on the agenda he wins. Getting sidetracked with personal peeves means he’s losing. Tweeting works.
Tweeting indiscriminately makes things worse, not better.
With Twitter, President Trump has revolutionized the dialogue between the American people and their President.
But like fire, Twitter is both a powerful tool and a potentially damaging force. Caution and discipline are the keys to effective use.