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Twitternation: politicians work social media into political platforms

Photograph+by+Gage+Skidmore%2C+obtained+through+Creative+Commons.+
Photograph by Gage Skidmore, obtained through Creative Commons.

Photograph by Gage Skidmore, obtained through Creative Commons.

Photograph by Gage Skidmore, obtained through Creative Commons.

Lara Graney

The hashtags. The likes. The retweets. For some social media users, Twitter is just that. But for the modern-day politician, the versatile 140-character message can be a powerful weapon, self-endorsement or even a soapbox speech. And our current president – also known as the “Commander-in-Tweet” thanks to NPR – doesn’t shy away from any of these messages.

Trump tweets an average of 21 posts a week on the @POTUS account, according to TwitterCo. The president’s posting frequency may be a way to avoid the “filter of the press,” as NPR reports. As of March 30, Trump has tweeted 171 times since his last press conference, which was held 41 days ago.

During his time as president-elect, Trump waited the longest of any of his predecessors, since at least Nixon, to hold a press conference. On Jan. 11, Trump hosted his first press conference 64 days after election day – a sharp contrast from the past three presidents, who fielded questions from reporters about every 15 days, according to an NPR analysis of data from American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Aside from tweeting more and holding press conferences less, Trump’s demeanor on social media differs from the precedent. The shift in the style of POTUS tweets from administration to administration can be seen in Trump’s and Obama’s tweets at the end of 2016.

Donald Trump posted “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!” The next day, Barack Obama wished the nation a Happy New Year as well: “It’s been the privilege of my life to serve as your President. I look forward to standing with you as a citizen. Happy New Year everybody.”

On top of wishing followers a happy 2017, Trump uses Twitter to announce policy as well as make promises to his country. On Mar. 7, Trump tweeted, “I am working on a new system where there will be competition in the Drug Industry. Pricing for the American people will come way down!”

Not to mention, Trump may owe his presidential victory to his social media presence. The Pew Research Center conducted a study to analyze the differences in Hillary Clinton’s, Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s Facebook or Twitter use during the campaign. While the candidates posted at relatively similar rates, their link usage was significantly different. As Trump emphasized on the news media, the Democrats utilized links to focus on their official campaign communications. Out of the three candidates, Trump got more responses to his social media posts overall, according to the Pew Research study.

But not all of Trump’s responses were positive. Trump has received criticism for some of his tweets, such as when he wrote about expanding the United States nuclear arsenal, according to CNN.  The most recent major controversy came when Trump claimed through Twitter that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower prior to the 2016 presidential election, according to CNBC.

Whether tweeters approve of Trump’s social media style or not, his account may be paving the way for politicians and officials to interact with the citizens they lead, said junior Courtney Kushnir of Colts Neck.

“I think [politicians] are using social media to try to get more in touch with the voter base,” Kushnir said. “I hope everyone stays sane and doesn’t follow Trump’s style fully but I think they’re following his lead in the sense that they’re trying to communicate directly with people.”

Social media is the newest frontier for political communication, and our current president may be setting a new standard, said professor Robert Howard at the University of Wisconsin-Maine.

“The question is just as an audience, do we need to adjust and say, ‘Oh well, if he tweeted that, he was just angry that day.’ Or is it the case that public officials need to say, ‘Well, I need to think about what I’m tweeting here, because a lot of people are going to see this immediately.”

 

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Twitternation: politicians work social media into political platforms