By Hannah Kim
President Trump’s Twitter usage has increased from 58 tweets per week in 2018 to 83 tweets a week since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the start of the impeachment proceedings. Though the President’s tweets might seem amusing and harmless due to their informality, they are quite the opposite.
In his study “The age of Twitter: Donald J. Trump and the politics of debasement,” Communications Professor of Texas Tech University Brian L. Ott finds that President Trump’s tendency to post negatively charged tweets encourages “simple, impulsive, and uncivil discourse.”
The first factor Mr. Ott considers is the structure of Twitter. Twitter is a social media platform where users post short messages called “tweets” that can touch on any topic like sports, entertainment, politics, personal updates, etc. Because of the 240 character limit, tweets can train users to oversimplify complex issues. For example, on Dec. 31, 2018, President Trump tweeted: “MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL through the many billions of dollars a year that the U.S.A. is saving through the new Trade Deal, the USMCA, that will replace the horrendous NAFTA Trade Deal, which has so badly hurt our Country…” In this post, President Trump did not explain how he would make Mexico pay for the wall. What protocols and contracts would the United States have to negotiate in order to make the proposal feasible? Would Congress approve of the motion in light of a government shutdown? Would Mexico even agree?
President Trump also did not recognize that the newly revised trade agreement which would make his idea possible “would not take effect until 2020 at the earliest.” In other words, executing this motion would take a long time, and that is only if it is successful.
Though it is important to engage citizens in the political process, it is critical to convey the gravity of issues being dealt with in government. Political controversies such as who will pay for a border wall take time to resolve. As a result, it is inaccurate to depict these political topics as if they are black and white with short, opinionated tweets.
Secondly, because Twitter is extremely accessible, it is common for users to impulsively write emotionally charged posts. For instance, in his tweet below, President Trump attacks Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for pursuing impeachment trials.
That is not the first time President Trump has posted antagonistic tweets. In fact, USA Today reports how his tweets are becoming more negative. Marketwatch also reports that his Twitter usage has increased ever since the start of the impeachment briefings. With the 67.9 million Twitter followers he has, President Trump wields immense power to influence citizens with his tweets by gradually making it the norm to personally attack opponents online.
By simplifying complex issues using concise, dark language both on and off the internet, President Trump contributes to, as Mr. Ott concludes: “a growing intolerance for cultural and political differences.”
The Trump era only marks the beginnings of what Twitter can do in the context of politics. It is possible that there will be a rise of demagoguery: appealing to the prejudice of people to gain political support. It is also possible that political polarization, when political opinions are at the extremes, will continue to grow and discourage productive conversation.
As the Twitter world translates into the real world, it will become even harder to discuss politics with anyone who disagrees with you. Therefore, it is vital for students to become adept with learning to differentiate between fact and opinion, developing skills to prevent being influenced by the “emotional contagion” of the internet and becoming proactive with doing research on reputable sources instead of relying on social media.