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The Twitter President: Why Do We Keep Tweeting at Trump?

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Politics | July 5, 2017 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Politics | July 5, 2017 |

Donald Trump tweeted again. Aside from watching hours of Fox News and treating women like shit, it seems to be the activity that occupies the most of his Presidential time. His social media prowess, for lack of a better term, has come to define him and his administration, mostly because it’s an obvious priority of his, which means that every news outlet is obliged to treat each tweet as a headline in waiting. Some have accused journalists of falling hook, line and sinker for these supposed distraction tactics, but it’s hard to see what they’re supposed to be distracting from, given that all his odious behaviour happens out in the open. His latest tweet of baffling insidiousness included a gif of him during an appearance on WWE beating up an opponent with the CNN logo photo-shopped across his face. While it remains to be seen if Trump understands that wrestling is fake, and thus using that to make a twisted point about beating “fake news” is steeped in exhausting irony, the overall point couldn’t be clearer: Donald Trump hates the media, and he has used his position to encourage violence against it.

Others have written more eloquently about this problem and the increasingly toxic atmosphere the Trump administration has created for journalists just doing their job, but what intrigued me so much about the tweet was seeing how a sizeable majority of my own Twitter followers replied to it. A massive array of tweeters of every age, occupation and background gathered together to craft just the right response to @RealDonaldTrump. Some were funny, others were sharp and outraged. Many offered facts and evidence on the topic of journalism and Trump’s ceaseless lies, but most just tweeted insults at him. Damn funny insults with an impressive grasp of the English language, no doubt, but insults all the same. There’s nothing wrong with that - I heartily encourage it - but while my feed filled with fury, I couldn’t help but wonder why we spent so much time tweeting at Donald Trump.

A major part of this frequently futile task is simple catharsis. It feels good to get all that rage out of your system. Critics of social media dismiss its usefulness as a tool of modern communication, but even the most cynical among us can appreciate the unifying joys of calling the President a knob. Why yell at the TV when you can type out the fury? There’s also the very real possibility that he’ll actually read your message. This is a man with no sense of humility or perspective, and he spends longer on Twitter than he does governing (which may be a good thing). The mere possibility of being blocked by the President of the United States of America on Twitter only a year ago was a laughable prospect. Now, it’s a perfectly legitimate goal to have for your future, and one that is easier to achieve than you might think. Are you a nasty woman or fake news pan-handler? There’s no better confirmation of that than getting the almighty Trump block.

Trump’s main method of communication is Twitter. He is a meme president and he likes it that way, so we are forced to indulge. Before becoming President, Trump used the site as his own commentator’s box, spewing his uninformed thoughts on the news of the day, his never-ending hatred of the Obamas, his perpetual narcissism and self-promotion that makes Kim Kardashian look like Thomas Pynchon, and a dash of celebrity gossip. Not a day went by where Trump didn’t have something to say about anything, from the Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson break-up to President Obama’s golfing to his self-absorbed love for his only daughter Ivanka. Twitter was perfect for Trump because it was completely in his control, a 140 character manifestation of his id that he never had to run by an aide or publicist. He could pick and choose who to reply to, retweeting fawning praise to prove his universal adoration or picking fights with the random target of the day to demonstrate his enormous brain. In Trump’s mind, he need never self-censor or even edit out the spelling errors. Why bother when people hang on every word regardless?

Trump genuinely seems to see his tweeting as a good thing. Not only that, he views it as a natural extension of his inherent leadership. In his own caps-locked words, “it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.” In a knotted way, he’s right that the use of social media has become a necessary political tool. Whether or not there’s any truth to the assumption, sites like Twitter are seen as a quick and accessible way for politicians and candidates to reach the electorate, particularly those ever-crucial young voters. Hillary Clinton’s Twitter game during the 2016 election was sharp, funny and easy to retweet. Much has been made about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s online success with youth voters in the recent general election, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is happy to indulge in this game for a quick PR boost.

Politicians are constantly looking for ways to seem more personable and “authentic”, so why not get down with the kids on Twitter? Yet Trump doesn’t use the site in that way. For him, it’s an extension of how he uses cable news - as a convenient and completely filter-free platform to spew whatever hate he wants, only here he’s actually challenged on some level. Trump isn’t the cool best friend on Twitter, nor is he a campaigner: He’s the conspiracy theorist at a time when that pseudo-occupation has real social capital. According to research during the election led by Ohio University, online interest in Trump was “three times higher than Clinton, according to Google trends analysis. Trump was the most Googled candidate, and also most mentioned on Twitter and Facebook.” As trust in the media dropped and the echo chamber expanded to legitimise YouTube-based hate preachers, GamerGate and other similarly misogynistic culture wars, Breitbart and Alex Jones, Trump stepped in to be the de-facto leader of this propaganda movement.

This is a problem only exacerbated by Twitter itself, as the platform resolutely refuses to shut down Trump’s account, despite it breaking multiple rules of harassment. The site’s ineptitude in tackling its increasingly irrevocable toxicity, leading a source in a Buzzfeed investigation to call them “a honeypot for assholes”, has only helped Trump and his administration to strengthen their attacks on the media. Abusers, bullies, harassers, bigots and literal neo-Nazis thrive on the site, bolstered by Trump’s presence and the false belief that their right to tweet is a free speech issue. It doesn’t matter what Trump does, or how often he makes indirect calls for violence against the media, or how frequently he directly attacks women like Mika Brzezinski: Twitter will never ban him. He’s the monster they helped create and the problem they refuse to deal with.

It’s dizzying to speculate on the logical endgame for Trump’s Twitter fetish: Live-tweeting his own impeachment, perhaps? Whatever the case, for how long or short he is in office, he will remain a tweeting despot, so maybe that’s why we all tweet at him. If we’re stuck with this deranged propagandist for now, we might as well get a few things off our chest.

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.