By William Gupton
In the age of the modern president of the United States, social media is the new revolutionary platform for politicians to connect with constituents and promote agendas. Much like Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with published press, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s’ mastery of the radio and John F. Kennedy’s skill with television, Donald Trump is using Twitter to change the role of the president forever. Rather than having to plan specific speeches to display on television, radio or in newspapers, President Trump can advocate policy and promote agendas instantaneously.
The presidential Twitter revolution actually began under Barack Obama, who founded the presidential twitter account @POTUS in 2015. He had used Twitter all throughout his campaigns, beginning in 2007 under personal accounts, but @POTUS became the exclusive account for the president that would be passed on after he left office.
But for President Trump, the issue is not with the @POTUS account, it is with his personal account, @realDonaldTrump. This is the account where we see all of the ridiculous personal attacks and wild accusations that he has become known for. This is the account that has featured attacks against the Khan family, insults toward Hillary Clinton and other political enemies, wild claims about Inauguration crowd sizes, propaganda for his policies and threats to foreign nations such as North Korea.
With these tweets being sources of national embarrassment and the propagation of false or misleading claims, many Americans have considered the question: how do we get the president to stop tweeting?
The simplest avenue is to outright ban him from Twitter, a move that brings up interesting legal questions and comes with certain consequences. Twitter can indeed ban any person from the platform if they violate the terms and conditions. According to an executive from the social media platform, “The Twitter Rules prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse…”
Trump’s account walks into murky margins on these policies, with the most likely violation being harassment. Twitter has said in the past that they would ban him if he were to violate these policies, but there is no indication they will follow through with that. The platform is already facing financial issues, and such a controversial move is not likely to be financially beneficial (see further the national anthem protests causing NFL revenues to plummet). Controversy is not a financially secure move.
The next avenue is to simply stop giving the account power. The power @realDonaldTrump has comes from the number of followers it has,
as well as the vast media presence it accumulates due to the overreporting of it in mainstream news. A simple search of CNN’s app as I am writing this displayed four individual articles reporting on comments Trump made via tweet. Just like during the presidential campaign, the media’s overreporting of Trump’s reality-tv style behavior over Twitter becomes an endless source of free press. Despite most of the coverage being negative, it isn’t likely to hurt him much; if the election taught media anything last year it was that for him there’s no such thing as bad press.
The revolution of Twitter in the hands of the president is less like the scientific revolution and more like the French revolution; it started
out as something promising and then quickly devolved into a bloody and counterproductive conflict that left things in worse shape than before.
I see no path in the future where the role of instantaneous responses from the president via platforms such as social media do not cause problems for the nation, large or small. In the time before this advent, the president’s primary responses and messages needed to be well-constructed and careful, with at least a few hours of planning in advance. This is no longer the case, and I have significant doubts that the changing future will not have a place for instantaneous response.
My concern for the lasting effect of Twitter on the role of the president is two-fold. First, instant responses are less thought out and can easily lead to missteps and conflicts when in the hands of someone incogitant of the seriousness the presidency requires. And second, when our presidents respond instantly, they become less of the reserved leader and more of a celebrity.
The president of the United States ought to be someone who is slow to speak, thoughtful and careful, because national crises are easy to cause when you speak without thought. Twitter, and platforms like it, work counter to this character and I dread what the lasting effect of this revolution on the office will be after Trump has left office.
In the meantime, we can only beg that the current president will put his phone down and start acting like a president.