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Trump’s time is up, but his Twitter legacy lives on in the global spread of QAnon conspiracy theories



http://www.shutterstock.com

Verica Rupar, Auckland University of Technology and Tom De Smedt, University of Antwerp

“The lie outlasts the liar,” writes historian Timothy Snyder, referring to outgoing president Donald Trump and his contribution to the “post-truth” era in the US.

Indeed, the mass rejection of reason that erupted in a political mob storming Capitol Hill mere weeks before the inauguration of Joe Biden tests our ability to comprehend contemporary American politics and its emerging forms of extremism.

Much has been written about Trump’s role in spreading misinformation and the media failures that enabled him. His contribution to fuelling extremism, flirting with the political fringe, supporting conspiracy theories and, most of all, Twitter demagogy created an environment in which he has been seen as an “accelerant” in his own right.

If the scale of international damage is yet to be calculated, there is something we can measure right now.

In September last year, the London-based Media Diversity Institute (MDI) asked us to design a research project that would systematically track the extent to which US-originated conspiracy theory group QAnon had spread to Europe.

Titled QAnon 2: spreading conspiracy theories on Twitter, the research is part of the international Get the Trolls Out! (GTTO) project, focusing on religious discrimination and intolerance.

Twitter and the rise of QAnon

GTTO media monitors had earlier noted the rise of QAnon support among Twitter users in Europe and were expecting a further surge of derogatory talk ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.

We examined the role religion played in spreading conspiracy theories, the most common topics of tweets, and what social groups were most active in spreading QAnon ideas.

We focused on Twitter because its increasing use — some sources estimate 330 million people used Twitter monthly in 2020 — has made it a powerful political communication tool. It has given politicians such as Trump the opportunity to promote, facilitate and mobilise social groups on an unprecedented scale.




Read more:
QAnon and the storm of the U.S. Capitol: The offline effect of online conspiracy theories


Using AI tools developed by data company Textgain, we analysed about half-a-million Twitter messages related to QAnon to identify major trends.

By observing how hashtags were combined in messages, we examined the network structure of QAnon users posting in English, German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. Researchers identified about 3,000 different hashtags related to QAnon used by 1,250 Twitter profiles.

Protestors with flag showing US flag and QAnon logo
Making the connection: demonstrators in Berlin in 2020 display QAnon and US imagery.
http://www.shutterstock.com

An American export

Every fourth QAnon tweet originated in the US (300). Far behind were tweets from other countries: Canada (30), Germany (25), Australia (20), the United Kingdom (20), the Netherlands (15), France (15), Italy (10), Spain (10) and others.

We examined QAnon profiles that share each other’s content, Trump tweets and YouTube videos, and found over 90% of these profiles shared the content of at least one other identified profile.

Seven main topics were identified: support for Trump, support for EU-based nationalism, support for QAnon, deep state conspiracies, coronavirus conspiracies, religious conspiracies and political extremism.




Read more:
Far-right activists on social media telegraphed violence weeks in advance of the attack on the US Capitol


Hashtags rooted in US evangelicalism sometimes portrayed Trump as Jesus, as a superhero, or clad in medieval armour, with underlying Biblical references to a coming apocalypse in which he will defeat the forces of evil.

Overall, the coronavirus pandemic appears to function as an important conduit for all such messaging, with QAnon acting as a rallying flag for discontent among far-right European movements.

Measuring the toxicity of tweets

We used Textgain’s hate-speech detection tools to assess toxicity. Tweets written in English had a high level of antisemitism. In particular, they targeted public figures such as Jewish-American billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, or revived old conspiracies about secret Jewish plots for world domination. Soros was also a popular target in other languages.

We also found a highly polarised debate around the coronavirus public health measures employed in Germany, often using Third Reich rhetoric.

New language to express negative sentiments was coined and then adopted by others — in particular, pejorative terms for face masks and slurs directed at political leaders and others who wore masks.

Accompanying memes ridiculed political leaders, displaying them as alien reptilian overlords or antagonists from popular movies, such as Star Wars Sith Lords and the cyborg from The Terminator.

Most of the QAnon profiles tap into the same sources of information: Trump tweets, YouTube disinformation videos and each other’s tweets. It forms a mutually reinforcing confirmation bias — the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information that confirms prior beliefs or values.




Read more:
Despite being permanently banned, Trump’s prolific Twitter record lives on


Where does it end?

Harvesting discontent has always been a powerful political tool. In a digital world this is more true than ever.

By mid 2020, Donald Trump had six times more followers on Twitter than when he was elected. Until he was suspended from the platform, his daily barrage of tweets found a ready audience in ultra-right groups in the US who helped his misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric jump the Atlantic to Europe.

Social media platforms have since attempted to reduce the spread of QAnon. In July 2020, Twitter suspended 7,000 QAnon-related accounts. In August, Facebook deleted over 790 groups and restricted the accounts of hundreds of others, along with thousands of Instagram accounts.




Read more:
Trump’s Twitter feed shows ‘arc of the hero,’ from savior to showdown


In January this year, all Trump’s social media accounts were either banned or restricted. Twitter suspended 70,000 accounts that share QAnon content at scale.

But further Textgain analysis of 50,000 QAnon tweets posted in December and January showed toxicity had almost doubled, including 750 tweets inciting political violence and 500 inciting violence against Jewish people.

Those tweets were being systematically removed by Twitter. But calls for violence ahead of the January 20 inauguration continued to proliferate, Trump’s QAnon supporters appearing as committed and vocal as ever.

The challenge for both the Biden administration and the social media platforms themselves is clear. But our analysis suggests any solution will require a coordinated international effort.The Conversation

Verica Rupar, Professor, Auckland University of Technology and Tom De Smedt, Postdoctoral research associate, University of Antwerp

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After riots, Donald Trump leaves office with under 40% approval



AAP/EPA/ Yuri Gripas /pool

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At 4am Thursday AEDT, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as president and vice president of the United States, replacing Donald Trump and Mike Pence. What follows is a discussion of US political events over the past two weeks.

On January 5, Democrats won the two Georgia Senate runoffs. Raphael Warnock (D) defeated Kelly Loeffler (R) by 2.0%, and Jon Ossoff (D) defeated David Perdue (R) by 1.2%.

After November’s elections, Republicans held a 50-48 Senate lead, so these results enabled Democrats to tie the Senate at 50-50, with Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote. Democrats gained a net three Senate seats from the pre-November Senate.

On January 6, pro-Trump rioters stormed Congress as it met to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. The rioters were clearly influenced by Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. Despite the riots and the courts’ resounding rejections of Trump’s claims, two state certifications were contested: Pennsylvania, which Biden won by 1.2% and Arizona (Biden by 0.3%).

Seven Republican senators out of 51 objected to Pennsylvania’s certification, as did 138 Republicans in the House of Representatives, with smaller numbers objecting to Arizona. The House objectors included House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

Just 64 House Republicans opposed the objection, so of those who cast a Yes/No vote on objecting to Pennsylvania, 68% supported the objection. Democrats were unanimously opposed.

It is not just Trump or the rioters, but also these Republicans in Congress who objected to the certifications on baseless election fraud claims who deserve to be condemned for anti-democratic behaviour.

I had two articles for The Poll Bludger about Georgia and the anti-democratic nuttiness of Trump and Republicans. The first was a preview, while the second was a live blog on the Georgia results and the events in Congress the next day.

In response to the riots, on January 13 the Democrat-controlled House impeached Trump for the second time by a 232-197 margin. All Democrats and ten Republicans supported impeachment. It requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict. Trump’s Senate trial will not start until after he leaves office.

Since the riots, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have blocked Trump’s accounts. But for two months after the election result was called by the media, Trump was able to use his Twitter account to rant that the election was stolen from him.

It is not surprising Trump’s supporters believe him: in a recent poll for the US ABC News and the Washington Post, over 70% of Republicans do not believe Biden was legitimately elected.

In the wake of the riots, Trump’s ratings have slumped. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, 38.5% approve of Trump’s performance and 57.9% disapprove, for a net approval of -19.4%. His net approval has dropped nine points since the riots. Trump’s net approval is his worst since December 2017.

FiveThirtyEight has charts of presidential approval since Harry Truman (president from 1945-53). Two previous presidents (Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy) did not reach Trump’s four years as president. Of those who had at least four years, Trump’s final net approval is worse than all except Jimmy Carter at this point in their terms.

In a Marist poll, 47% thought Trump would be remembered as one of the worst presidents, while 16% thought he would be remembered as one of the best.

Detailed US election report

After results are finalised, I have published a detailed report on every US presidential election since 2008. My 2008 and 2012 reports are at The Green Papers here and here, and my 2016 report is at The Conversation. My 2016 report had a massive surge in views in October and November last year.

My 2020 election report, published December 11, is at The Poll Bludger. Here are the highlights:

  • Biden won the Electoral College by 306 to 232, but he only won the tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by 0.6%. The tipping-point state is the state that puts the winning candidate over the magic 270 Electoral Votes needed to win.

  • Biden won the national popular vote by 4.5% or just over 7 million votes. So the tipping-point state was 3.9% more pro-Trump than the popular vote.

  • Trump’s vote held up well with the non-University educated whites who had given him his upset 2016 win. Biden owed his Electoral College victory to gains in the suburbs, where there is a higher amount of university education.

  • Trump improved greatly from 2016 with Hispanics, leading to large swings in his favour in diverse places like Miami-Dade county, Florida and New York City.

  • There was disappointment for Democrats relative to expectations in Congressional races, although the Georgia runoff results have improved this.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As Trump exits the White House, he leaves Trumpism behind in Australia



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Through recent natural disasters, global upheavals and a pandemic, Australia’s political centre has largely held.

Australians may have disagreed at times, but they have also kept faith with governmental norms, eschewing the false allure of populism beguiling voters elsewhere.




Read more:
Is it curtains for Clive? What COVID means for populism in Australia 


Our federal and state governments enjoy broad public confidence and draw their core legitimacy from the middle ground, whether it be centre-left or centre-right.

But if Australians followed the 2020 presidential race in the United States with greater-than-usual interest, it was because when boiled down, it presaged a plausible descent for Australia’s politics, too.

Two very different futures

Last November’s poll offered a choice between two fundamentally different futures for the US.

Pro-Trump protesters at the US Capitol in January 2021.
The recent US election showed a deeply divided United States.
Michael Reynolds/AAP

On the one hand, there was an assumption that free and fair elections, the rule of law and concepts such as pluralism and civility are central to government and society.

On the other, there was an angry, polarising disintegration, in which rules can be broken, facts undermined, critics abused and the usual accountability mechanisms silenced.

As a partner democracy with deep cultural, economic, and strategic ties with the US, Australians lapped up the theatre of the Trump versus Biden contest. But many also worried the verdict of America’s 150 million-plus voters would have material implications down under.




Read more:
‘Delighting in causing complete chaos’: what’s behind Trump supporters’ brazen storming of the Capitol


Strategically, these implications included a continuation of the US global retreat, which had already seen China moving to fill the leadership void.

Domestically, it might involve the insidious adoption of Trumpist methodology within Australia’s political right.

Trumpist approach already here

Manifestations of the latter are already advanced in sections of our news media, and the willingness of political leaders to bluster through mistakes and exposed wrongdoings, refusing to apologise, explain or resign.

This is a key take-out of the Trump approach: notions of honour and tradition, long relied upon to protect probity and avoid conflicts of interest, can be ignored. Those seeking transparency or who uncover maladministration can be depicted as political opponents or extremists, motivated by hatred and prejudice.

For the Westminster tradition, where confidence rests on protections only ever partly codified, the dangers are existential.

What mistakes?

Evidence of this deterioration can be seen in the marked tendency of governments to stare down calls for resignation, ignore significant public disquiet, and press on.

In 2020, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted an intimate association dating back years with a disgraced former MP who, it turned out, had been arranging property deals for commission, even as a backbencher.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian refused to quit during the scandal over her relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Berejiklian’s defence amounted to a blunt “I’ve done nothing wrong”.

The origin of forged documents, released by federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor to defame the Sydney City Council, has never been properly explained.




Read more:
Why can politicians so easily dodge accountability for their mistakes? The troubling answer: because they can


Explosive revelations of political interference in a A$100 million federal sports grants program have never been conceded (although, Berejiklian recently admitted “political” allocation is standard practice when forced to explain similar outrages in a state program).

There is also the A$30 million Leppington Triangle land purchase which benefited a political donor, but brought no resignation. And the Robodebt debacle, which caused massive community suffering and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, but cost nobody their job.

Contrast this with the response in The Netherlands where the entire cabinet, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, resigned on Friday. This was over a scandal involving child welfare payments, which had led to parents erroneously being labelled fraudsters.

As Rutte explained,

We are of one mind that if the whole system has failed, we all must take responsibility, and that has led to the conclusion that I have just offered the king, the resignation of the entire cabinet.

The two scandals are remarkably similar in nature, and in the scale of the taxpayer-funded recompense, but could scarcely be more different in the level of political responsibility taken.

It used to be very different

Previously, ministers have resigned over comparatively technical breaches. This includes the unwitting importation of a Paddington teddy bear in the 1984 case of Labor’s Mick Young – the bear, which would have attracted an import duty measured in cents, was actually in his wife’s luggage.

A Berejiklian predecessor, Barry O’Farrell, quit in 2014 after advising the Independent Commission Against Corruption he had no recollection of receiving a single – albeit valuable – bottle of wine. Announcing his resignation, he said,

I do accept there is a thank you note signed by me, and as someone who believes in accountability, in responsibility, I accept the consequences of my action.

Former NSW premier Barry O'Farrell in the back seat of a car.
Former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell resigned after a ‘massive memory fail’ about a bottle of Grange.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The army minister Andrew Peacock offered to resign in 1970 after his wife appeared in an advertisement for Sheridan sheets. A few years later, two Fraser government ministers fell on their swords over a colour TV carried into the country but declared as black-and-white on a customs form.

The threshold has changed

The mere appearance of wrongdoing used to be enough to raise public confidence problems and thus end a ministerial career. Now, even the substance of dishonesty, non-disclosure or incompetence avoids meaningful sanction.

The right-wing extremism that informs Trump’s base has become all pervasive. It has certainly captured the Republican party – only ten of whose House members voted to impeach the outgoing President – despite the president’s sworn commitment to:

support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The facts show President Trump entreated supporters to storm the Congress, in an attempt to stop the lawful certification of his replacement.

It was a mark of Trumpian reach into Australian political culture that neither that outrage, nor his wilful mishandling of the coronavirus, has brought clear condemnation from the Morrison government.

Extreme becomes mainstream

Another trait of Trumpism is the tacit legitimisation of an extreme right-wing discourse of grievance, white supremacy, and anti-establishment conspiracy theory.




Read more:
Why the alt-right believes another American Revolution is coming


Despite clear mainstream costs, senior Morrison ministers have pointedly refused to contradict or discipline their own MPs (Craig Kelly and George Chrsistensen) spreading incorrect and potentially dangerous Trumpist dogma surrounding US electoral fraud, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 treatments, and claims of left-wing agent provocateurs in the Capitol insurrection.

Drawing a typically Trumpist equivalence, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack referenced last year’s Black Lives Matter rallies – which he derisively termed “race riots” — to play down the Capitol siege while also trotting out offensive lines such as “all lives matter”.




Read more:
Why is it so offensive to say ‘all lives matter’?


Faced with a backlash, McCormack decried those “confecting outrage” as “bleeding hearts”.

It suggests the calculation already being made by ministers is that nourishing an extremist culture of resentment and anger is more useful to a centre-right government than courting the political middle ground.

America has already been down this path, and we know where it leads.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why social media platforms banning Trump won’t stop — or even slow down — his cause


Bronwyn Carlson, Macquarie University

Last week Twitter permanently suspended US President Donald Trump in the wake of his supporters’ violent storming of Capitol Hill. Trump was also suspended from Facebook and Instagram indefinitely.

Heads quickly turned to the right-wing Twitter alternative Parler — which seemed to be a logical place of respite for the digitally de-throned president.

But Parler too was axed, as Amazon pulled its hosting services and Google and Apple removed it from their stores. The social network, which has since sued Amazon, is effectively shut down until it can secure a new host or force Amazon to restore its services.

These actions may seem like legitimate attempts by platforms to tackle Trump’s violence-fuelling rhetoric. The reality, however, is they will do little to truly disengage his supporters or deal with issues of violence and hate speech.

With an election vote count of 74,223,744 (46.9%), the magnitude of Trump’s following is clear. And since being banned from Twitter, he hasn’t shown any intention of backing down.

In his first appearance since the Capitol attack, Trump described the impeachment process as ‘a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics’.

Not budging

With more than 47,000 original tweets from Trump’s personal Twitter account (@realdonaldtrump) since 2009, one could argue he used the platform inordinately. There’s much speculation about what he might do now.

Tweeting via the official Twitter account for the president @POTUS, he said he might consider building his own platform. Twitter promptly removed this tweet. He also tweeted: “We will not be SILENCED!”.

This threat may come with some standing as Trump does have avenues to control various forms of media. In November, Axios reported he was considering launching his own right-wing media venture.

For his followers, the internet remains a “natural hunting ground” where they can continue gaining support through spreading racist and hateful sentiment.

The internet is also notoriously hard to police – it has no real borders, and features such as encryption enable anonymity. Laws differ from state to state and nation to nation; an act deemed illegal in one locale may be legal elsewhere.

It’s no surprise groups including fascists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white supremacists were early and eager adopters of the internet. Back in 1998, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke wrote online:

I believe that the internet will begin a chain reaction of racial enlightenment that will shake the world by the speed of its intellectual conquest.

As far as efforts to quash such extremism go, they’re usually too little, too late.

Take Stormfront, a neo-Nazi platform described as the web’s first major racial hate site. It was set up in 1995 by a former Klan state leader, and only removed from the open web 22 years later in 2017.




Read more:
Social media giants have finally confronted Trump’s lies. But why wait until there was a riot in the Capitol?


The psychology of hate

Banning Trump from social media won’t necessarily silence him or his supporters. Esteemed British psychiatrist and broadcaster Raj Persaud sums it up well: “narcissists do not respond well to social exclusion”.

Others have highlighted the many options still available for Trump fans to congregate since Parler’s departure, which was used to communicate plans ahead of the siege at Capitol. Gab is one platform many Trump supporters have flocked to.

It’s important to remember hate speech, racism and violence predate the internet. Those who are predisposed to these ideologies will find a way to connect with others like them.

And censorship likely won’t change their beliefs, since extremist ideologies and conspiracies tend to be heavily spurred on by confirmation bias. This is when people interpret information in a way that reaffirms their existing beliefs.

When Twitter took action to limit QAnon content last year, some followers took this as confirmation of the conspiracy, which claims Satan-worshipping elites from within government, business and media are running a “deep state” against Trump.

Social media and white supremacy: a love story

The promotion of violence and hate speech on platforms isn’t new, nor is it restricted to relatively fringe sites such as Parler.

Queensland University of Technology Digital Media lecturer Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández describes online hate speech as “platformed racism”. This framing is critical, especially in the case of Trump and his followers.

It recognises social media has various algorithmic features which allow for the proliferation of racist content. It also captures the governance structures that tend to favour “free speech” over the safety of vulnerable communities online.

For instance, Matamoros-Fernández’s research found in Australia, platforms such as Facebook “favoured the offenders over Indigenous people” by tending to lean in favour of free speech.

Other research has found Indigenous social media users regularly witness and experience racism and sexism online. My own research has also revealed social media helps proliferate hate speech, including racism and other forms of violence.

On this front, tech companies are unlikely to take action on the scale required, since controversy is good for business. Simply, there’s no strong incentive for platforms to tackle the issues of hate speech and racism — not until not doing so negatively impacts profits.

After Facebook indefinitely banned Trump, its market value reportedly dropped by US$47.6 billion as of Wednesday, while Twitter’s dropped by US$3.5 billion.




Read more:
Profit, not free speech, governs media companies’ decisions on controversy


The need for a paradigm shift

When it comes to imagining a future with less hate, racism and violence, a key mistake is looking for solutions within the existing structure.

Today, online media is an integral part of the structure that governs society. So we look to it to solve our problems.

But banning Trump won’t silence him or the ideologies he peddles. It will not suppress hate speech or even reduce the capacity of individuals to incite violence.

Trump’s presidency will end in the coming days, but extremist groups and the broader movement they occupy will remain, both in real life and online.




Read more:
Reddit removes millions of pro-Trump posts. But advertisers, not values, rule the day


The Conversation


Bronwyn Carlson, Professor, Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Despite being permanently banned, Trump’s prolific Twitter record lives on


Audrey Courty, Griffith University

For years, US President Donald Trump pushed the limits of Twitter’s content policies, raising pressure on the platform to exercise tougher moderation.

Ultimately, the violent siege of the US Capitol forced Twitter’s hand and the platform permanently banned Trump’s personal account, @realDonaldTrump.

But this doesn’t mean the 26,000 or so tweets posted during his presidency have vanished. They are now a matter of public record — and have been preserved accordingly.




Read more:
Twitter permanently suspends Trump after U.S. Capitol siege, citing risk of further violence


The de-platforming of Donald Trump

The loss of public access to Trump’s original Twitter posts means every online hyperlink to a tweet is now defunct. Embedded tweets are still visible as simple text, but can no longer be traced to their source.

Adding to this, retweets of the president’s messages no longer appear on the forwarding user’s feed. Quote tweets have been replaced with the message: “This Tweet is unavailable” and replies can’t be viewed in one place anymore.

But even if Trump’s account had not been suspended, he would have had to part with it at the end of his presidency anyway, since he used it extensively for presidential purposes.

Under the US government’s ethics regulations, US officials are prevented from benefiting personally from their public office, and this applies to social media accounts.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, also used her personal and political Twitter accounts to conduct official business as ambassador. The account was wiped and renamed in 2019 once her role ended.

Where did all the information go?

Despite being permanently suspended, Trump’s prolific Twitter record is not lost. Under the Presidential Records Act, all of Trump’s social media communications are considered public property, including non-public messages sent via direct chat features.

The act defines presidential records as any materials created or received by the president (or immediate staff or advisors) in the course of conducting his official duties.

It was passed in 1978, out of concern that former president Richard Nixon would destroy the tapes which ultimately led to his resignation. Today, it remains a way to force governments to be transparent with the public.

And although Trump tweeted extensively from his personal Twitter account created in 2009, @realDonaldTrump, it has undoubtedly been used for official purposes.

From banning transgender military service to threatening the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea, his tweets on this account constitute an important part of the presidential record.

As such, the US National Archives says it will preserve all of them, including deleted posts — as well as all posts from @POTUS, the official presidential account.

The Trump administration will have to turn over the digital records for both accounts on January 20, which will eventually be made available to the public on a Trump Library website.

Still, the president reserves the right to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to 12 years.

We don’t know whether Trump will invoke restrictions. But even if he does, grassroots initiatives have already archived all of his tweets.

For example, the Trump Twitter Archive is a free, public resource that lets users search and filter through more than 56,000 tweets by Trump since 2009, including deleted tweets since 2016.

Screenshot taken from https://www.thetrumparchive.com/
The Trump Twitter Archive, started in 2016, is currently one of few extensive online databases providing access to the president’s past tweets.
Screenshot

A matter of public record

In 2017, Trump told Fox News he believed he may have never been elected without Twitter — and that he viewed it as an effective means for pushing his message.

Twitter also benefited from this relationship. Trump’s 88 million followers (as of when his account was suspended) generated endless streams of user engagement for the social media giant.

Trump’s approach to using Twitter was unprecedented. He bypassed traditional media channels, instead tweeting for political and diplomatic purposes — including to make important policy announcements.

His tweets set the agenda for US politics during his presidency. For example, they influenced foreign relations between the US and Mexico, North Korea, China and Iran. They were also used to endorse allies and attack rivals.




Read more:
Twitter diplomacy: how Trump is using social media to spur a crisis with Mexico


The closest thing to a town square

For all the reasons listed above, the value of Trump’s Twitter record extends beyond historical research. It’s a way to hold him accountable for what he has said and done.

And this will soon be on display as the US Democratic Party looks to impeach him for the second time for “inciting insurrection”.

Trump’s administration of “alternative facts” has continuously stonewalled a number of enquiries — going as far as refusing to testify before Congress on certain matters.

From this frame of view, Trump’s Twitter feed was arguably one of few places where his claims and decisions could really be scrutinised. And indeed, news coverage of the president often relied heavily on this.

The amplification effect

The media’s reliance on president Trump’s tweets ultimately highlights a key aspect that governs today’s hybrid media system. That is, it’s highly responsive to a populist communication style.

Trump’s use of Twitter indirectly contributed to his election success in 2016, by helping boost media coverage of his campaign. Researchers also observed him strategically increasing his Twitter activity in line with waning news interest.

Through a constant stream of provocative remarks, Trump exploited news values and continuously inserted himself into the news cycle. And for journalists under pressure to churn out content, his impassioned messages were the perfect sound bites.

Now, stripped of his favourite mouthpiece, it’s uncertain whether Trump will find another way to exert his influence. But one thing is for sure: his time on Twitter will go down in history.The Conversation

Audrey Courty, PhD candidate, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump is impeached again in historic vote. Now Republicans must decide the future of their party



Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Bryan Cranston, Swinburne University of Technology

In a historic vote today, Donald Trump became the only US president to be impeached twice.

By a margin of 232–197, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives voted to charge Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States” for his role in encouraging the insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol last week.

When Trump was impeached by the House last year for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, no Republicans joined the Democrats in the vote.

This time, however, ten members of Trump’s own party supported the effort to remove him from office.

Is there any chance of conviction?

Now that the House has voted to impeach Trump, a trial will be held in the Senate, though the timing of this is unclear at the moment.

For Trump to be convicted, 67 senators need to vote in favour. If all 50 Democrats and independents vote to convict Trump as expected, then at least 17 Republicans would need to join them.




Read more:
Trump impeached a second time – but Trumpism will live on


So far, only three (Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey) have indicated they would do so. Mitt Romney, a vocal Trump critic, will probably join them, and Susan Collins is a possibility.

Even though the most powerful Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, is said to be privately supporting the impeachment effort (and publicly said he hasn’t decided how he will vote), the numbers required to convict Trump will likely still fall short.

McConnell's vote will be crucial.
The future of the Republican Party may come down to how McConnell votes in the Senate trial.
Senate Television/AP

What’s at stake for Republicans?

Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, has said the president “will be remembered as an aberration” when he leaves office after noon on January 20.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party will go on. And it will need to find its identify in the post-Trump era.

Do they continue with the arch-conservatism of the past decade that gave rise to the Tea Party and Trump, or do they return to the more traditional Republican politics associated with George W. Bush, John McCain and Romney?

While some Senate Republicans have loudly declared their allegiance to Trump, others appear to be suddenly on the fence.




Read more:
What’s next for the Republicans after Trump? Here are 5 reasons for pessimism — and 5 reasons for hope


Lindsey Graham, who went from being one of Trump’s most outspoken opponents to his staunchest backer in Congress, last week broke with Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. However, Graham is strongly opposed to impeachment.

McConnell, too, could be looking ahead to rebuilding the party post-Trump, which is why he is said to be wavering on his vote to convict Trump. As one Republican close to him told Axios,

If you’re McConnell, you want to be remembered for defending the Senate and the institution.

The most prominent Republican to join the impeachment effort in the House is Liz Cheney.

The daughter of former US Vice President Dick Cheney has only been in Congress since 2017. After just two years, however, she was elected chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-most senior Republican position in the House after minority leader (Kevin McCarthy) and minority whip (Steve Scalise).

A rising star in the party, Cheney surprised many when she said she wouldn’t run for the open Senate seat in Wyoming last year, opting to stay in the House.

With both McCarthy and Scalise voting against impeachment today, Cheney’s move suggests she is positioning herself as a leader of the anti-Trump faction in the party, with eyes on perhaps becoming the first female Republican House speaker.

Why purging Trump might not be possible

It must be noted that a significant portion of the American electorate still supports Trump and his policies. According to FiveThirtyEight, about 42% of Americans do not support impeachment. And among Republicans, just 15% say they want him removed from office.

Whoever leads the Republican Party post-Trump will need to consider how they will maintain the rabid support of his “base”, while working to regain more moderate voters who defected from the party in the 2020 election.

The reason McConnell is reportedly said to be considering voting to convict Trump is that is would make it easier to purge him from the party.




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But purging Trump will be difficult. Even without Twitter, the power Trump wields is immense. The fear among many Republicans is that he can encourage primary challenges to any incumbents he feels have wronged him.

He’s done this many times before. In 2018, Trump strongly endorsed Brian Kemp in his successful campaign for governor of Georgia, but when Kemp rejected his claims of election fraud in November, Trump announced he was ashamed of having supported him. Trump loyalists are already looking for a primary challenger to him.

Trump has also called for primary challenges to Republican Ohio governor Mike Dewine and John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate.

Security concerns among Trump’s supporters

Trump doesn’t appear to want to go away quietly, which is also a cause for concern from a security standpoint.

This week, a leaked internal FBI bulletin warned that armed protests are planned for all 50 states and Washington DC in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Some state capitol buildings have begun boarding up their doors and windows, while 15,000 National Guard troops have been mobilised for deployment to the nation’s capital ahead of expected violence and unrest.

A member of the Pennsylvania Capitol Police
A member of the Pennsylvania Capitol Police stands guard at the entrance to the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
Jose F. Moreno/AP

This is an unfortunate sign of how many expect Trump’s supporters to respond to both his impeachment and Biden’s inauguration — even with Trump finally urging against further violence and unrest.

Most presidents aim to leave office with the nation better off than when they entered, but Trump’s legacy appears to be cementing a more divided country, where his brand of aggressive “conflict politics” may be the new norm.

This is a no-win situation for the country. And Republicans are still trying to figure out which side of history they want to be on.The Conversation

Bryan Cranston, Lead Academic Teacher – Politics & Social Science (Swinburne Online), Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.