When Donald Trump — now president-elect of the United States — is sworn in two months from now, he will not only have access to the stately White House and Air Force One, but he will also be offered an internet inheritance: President Obama’s official @POTUS Twitter Account.
The former reality star and billionaire has become infamous for his unfiltered Twitter feed: his forum for everything from opinions on diet coke to a 3 a.m. rant criticizing a former Miss Universe’s weight. Americans anticipating the social media shockwaves of Trump’s pending presidency are asking: Is unfettered social media use acceptable for our future president?
Leslie Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes” addressed this question in an interview that aired Sunday evening, asking Trump, “Are you going to be tweeting and whatever you’re upset about just put out there when you’re president?” Amidst a mix of high praise for social media (“I find it tremendous”) and reluctance (“I’m not saying I love it, but it does get the word out”) — Trump said that he would be “very restrained” in his social media usage.
The @nytimes sent a letter to their subscribers apologizing for their BAD coverage of me. I wonder if it will change – doubt it?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2016
Yet before the interview aired, Trump had fired off an early-morning tweetstorm on Sunday antagonizing the New York Times for their “very poor and highly inaccurate coverage” of his campaign, which some believe calls his previous commitment into question. The tweets came after Trump’s campaign aides wrenched away his social media accounts the weekend before the election to prevent any last-minute damage the candidate might wreak upon the campaign.
The trouble with tweeting
For many Americans, Trump’s long history of controversial tweets raises significant concerns. Some, like his tweets calling Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly “crazy” and “sick,” have targeted individuals with disrespectful remarks. Others, like his tweet about Mexico that “We get the killers, drugs & crime, they get the money!” made offensive or politically incorrect generalizations. Still others have come under fire for inaccurate facts, like the erroneous crime statistics in a tweet directed towards African Americans.
Everybody should boycott the @megynkelly show. Never worth watching. Always a hit on Trump! She is sick, & the most overrated person on tv.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2016
The frequent words and phrases that appear across Trump’s feed often spur polarized reactions. Phrases such as “very unfair!” “sad!” and “haters and losers,” are in his regular rotation. Because Trump’s tweets are tailored towards those who agree ideologically, antagonizing those who do not, many worry that continuing this pattern while in office would bring calamity.
Over a year ago, one writer for the Washington Post already foresaw concerns on the social media horizon, regardless of the president in office. If a presidential administration “opts to communicate mostly with parts of the electorate that identify with him ideologically or can be helpful politically,” it brings a risk: “ fostering further political polarization.”
“Now I think for the president-elect to be tweeting at all, it’s weird,” Stephen Colbert, host of “The Late Show” said on his program Thursday. “It just feels strange doesn’t it?”
Does Trump need Twitter?
Others believe that because Trump’s twitter account has become so closely connected with Trump himself, the President-elect’s signature tweeting habits should continue when he occupies the Oval Office.
Hogan Gidley, a former adviser to Republican Mike Huckabee during his presidential campaign, told the Washington Post that “To take away Twitter from Donald Trump is to strip away part of who he is.” He said that “His supporters, half of America, like who he is, voted for who he is and you don’t want to hamstring the person.” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told CNN host Chris Cuomo that Americans want to “continue to see a real human being in the White House.” “It’s Donald Trump being Donald Trump,” he said. “You don’t want this stuff all bottled up.”
When Cuomo suggested to the Republican congressman that Trump’s twitter habits may not be a “healthy way for him to govern going forward,” Collins justified the tweeting as a stress-reliever for Trump. “The pressure that has got to be on President-elect Trump is immense,” Collins said on the program. “If this is what he has some fun with and he finds this relaxing and his entertainment, let him go with it.”
“Now I’m going to call bulls**t on this,” Colbert said in response to Collins’ interview, pointing his finger at the camera while his audience applauded. “Twitter isn’t Trump’s entertainment. It’s his way around the press.”
Looking to the future
Despite this debate, it’s more than likely that Trump’s twitter will be more “engaged,” than his predecessor’s, according to Bret Jacobson, a Republican digital strategist, “especially at times when they think they need to change the narrative.” Trump’s Sunday interview confirms Jacobson’s suspicion. When Stahl asked if he would “keep it up” as President, Trump said that social media gives him a “way of fighting back” when “you [the news media] give me a bad story or when you give me an inaccurate story.”
If true, Trump’s twitter will look vastly different than that of his forerunner. President Obama — who earned his own moniker as the first “Social Media President” — has an account that is run largely by his 14-person digital media staff, with the exception of occasional tweets signed with the President’s initials.
Now, the digital baton will be passed to Trump, as detailed in a special White House bulletin released Oct. 31 explaining that “We are working to ensure that the next president and administration — regardless of party — can continue to use and develop the digital assets we have created to connect directly with the people they serve.” On inauguration day, the Twitter handle @POTUS will be “made available to the 45th President of the United States,” the bulletin explains, and will retain its more than 11 million followers, but start with no tweets on the timeline.
President Obama will continue to use his personal account, which now has over 79 million followers, the fourth highest following in the world. It remains to be seen if Trump will use the @POTUS account, which currently has about 4 million less followers than his own Twitter handle, come January 20, 2017.