Trump, the wannabe king ruling by ‘twiat’


Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Just weeks after his inauguration as US president, it is clear that Donald Trump is making a further bold claim on power, one that goes beyond the executive orders that are rightly drawing so much attention. He is reinventing the royal fiat by novel means: the rule-by-tweet, or “twiat”. This move is not an extension of popular democracy, but its enemy, and it needs to be resisted.

We are becoming used to Trump’s new way not just of sustaining a political campaign, but of making policy. We wake up to news of another state, corporation, institution or individual caught in the crossfire of his tweets. Corporations and investors are setting up “Twitter Response Units” and “Trump Triggers” in case the next tweet is aimed at them.

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The process is so alien to the ways of making policy that have evolved over decades in complex democracies that it is tempting to dismiss it as just funny or naive. But that would be a huge mistake.

A tweet of Trump’s opinion at any moment on a particular issue is just that: an expression of the temporary opinion of one person, albeit one with his hands on more power-levers than almost any other person in the world.

Trump’s opinions at any moment are subject to change.
Sasha Kimel/flickr

Such expressions matter, for sure, to Trump’s Twitter followers. But, although one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, they do not (at 23 million) constitute a significant proportion of the world’s population, or even a large proportion of the US population.

The king holds court

A Trump tweet only becomes news if it is reported as news. And it only starts to become policy if those who interpret policy, including the media, start to treat this news as policy. Until then, the Trump tweet remains at most a claim on power.

But once key institutions treat it as if were already an enactment of power, it quickly becomes one. Worse, it inaugurates a whole new way of doing power whose compatibility with democracy and global peace is questionable.

Imagine you are a diplomat, trying to schedule a meeting for yourself, or your political master, with Trump in a few weeks’ time. Is it sensible for you to rely on the confidentiality of the meeting? Could a poorly chosen phrase or look – or indeed your most carefully argued reasoning – provoke a tweet that publicly mocks your whole strategy?

How do you deal with a figure who claims the power to broadcast on his own terms his gut reactions to whatever you say or propose? Yes, you can tweet back, but that is already to give up on the quiet space of discussion that was once diplomacy’s refuge.

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The impact of rule-by-tweet is potentially profound: above all, on policy, whether global or domestic, legal or commercial. A new type of power is being claimed and, it seems, recognised: the power, by an individual’s say-so, to make things happen, the twiat. Just the sort of power that revolutions were fought to abolish.

If Trump is the putative Tweet King, who are his courtiers? Surely they’re the mainstream media institutions that regularly report Trump’s tweets as if they were policy.

If a medieval king’s courtiers refused to pass on his word to the wider world, its impact changed. While courtiers could be replaced overnight, contemporary media corporations cannot (for now at least). So why should the media act as if they were Trump’s courtiers?

We must not underestimate the short-term pressure on media corporations to conform to Trump’s claim on power. For sure, there will be an audience if they report Trump’s tweets, and their financial need to grab audiences wherever they can has never been greater.

But, if news values still mean something, they refer not only to financial imperatives, but to what should count as news. And norms about news must have some relation to what passes for acceptable in a democracy rather than an autocracy.

Why is the ‘twiat’ anti-democratic?

Some might say: Trump’s tweets are just the new way of doing democracy, “get with the program” (in the words of Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer). But, as the grim history of mid-20th-century Europe shows, authoritarian grabs on power only ever worked because their anti-democratic means were accepted by those around them as a novel way of “doing democracy”.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says officials must ‘get with the program’ or go.

The “twiat” is anti-democratic for two reasons. First, it claims a power (to name individuals, pronounce policy, and condemn actions) against which there is no redress. Its work is done once uttered from the mouth of the “king”.

Second, and more subtly, allowing such power back into political decision-making undermines the slower, more inclusive forms of discussion and reflection that gives modern political democratic institutions their purpose and purchase in the first place.

Trump’s claim to a new form of charismatic power through Twitter is, in part, the flip-side of the damaged legitimacy of today’s democratic process. But, instead of curing that problem, it closes the door on it. The presidential tweeting ushers us into a new space that is no longer recognisable as democratic: a space where complex policy becomes not just too difficult but unnecessary, although its substitutes can still be tweeted.

Is Trump’s Twitter feed bypassing dishonest media or bypassing the democratic process?

Can anything be done to stop this? A good start would be to stop reporting the tweets of our would-be Twitter king as if they were news, let alone policy.

Let Trump’s tweets have no more claim on democracy’s attention than the changing opinions of any other powerful figure. Refuse the additional claim to power that Trump’s Twitter stream represents.

Fail to refuse that claim, and all of us risk accepting by default a new form of rule that undermines the restraints on power on which both democracy and media freedoms, in the long term, depend.

The Conversation

Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Socially mediated terrorism poses devilish dilemma for social responses


Claire Smith, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Kyushu University

The terrorist attacks in Paris have resonated around the world. In addition to physical violence, Islamic State (IS) is pursuing a strategy of socially mediated terrorism. The symbolic responses of its opponents can be predicted and may inadvertently further its aims.

In the emotion of the moment, we need to act. We need to be cautious, however, of symbolic reactions that divide Muslims and non-Muslims. We need emblems that act against the xenophobia that is a recruiting tool for jihadists.

Reactions from the West should not erode the Muslim leadership that is essential to overturning “Islamic State”. Queen Rania of Jordan points out:

What the extremists want is to divide our world along fault lines of religion and culture, and so a lot of people in the West may have stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims. But really this fight is a fight between the civilised world and a bunch of crazy people who want to take us back to medieval times. Once we see it that way, we realise that this is about all of us coming together to defend our way of life.

Queen Rania’s statement characterises the Paris attacks as part of a wider conflict around cultural values. How are these values playing out symbolically across the globe?

Propaganda seeks predictable responses

IS’s socially mediated propaganda is sophisticated and planned. This supports an argument that the Paris attacks are the beginning of a global campaign. Symbolic materials characterise IS as invincible. However, other evidence may indicate that it is weak.

The IS representation of the Eiffel Tower.
SITE Intelligence Group

The spontaneous celebration on Twitter by IS supporters was predictable. Its representational coverage of the Paris attacks, however, suggests deep planning.

This planning is embedded in professionally designed images. A reworked image depicts the Eiffel Tower as a triumphal arch with the IS flag flying victoriously on top.

The tower is illuminated and points to the heavens and a God-given victory. The inclusion of a road running through the Eiffel Tower provides a sense of speed, change, even progress. In Arabic, the text states, “We are coming, France” and “The state of Khilafa”.

IS is using symbolic representations of the Paris attacks to garner new recruits.

A sophisticated pre-prepared image of an intrepid fighter walking away from a Paris engulfed in flames was quickly distributed. It is inscribed with the word “France under fire” in Arabic and French.

IS had its ‘France under fire’ image ready to post immediately after the attacks.
INSITE on Terrorism

InFAMOUS
IGN Entertainment Games

This image keys into the heroic tropes of online video gaming, such as prototype and inFAMOUS. Chillingly, it is designed to turn virtual warriors into actual warriors.

The five million young Muslims in France are particular targets. Among online recruitment materials are videos calling them to join other young French nationals who are with IS.

Prototype
hifisnap

Support for the victims in Paris and for the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity are embedded in the blue, white and red lights movement. These lights shone in major cities in the US, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan and South America. The blue, white and red lights also were displayed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia.

However, the light displays were seen in few countries with Muslim majorities overall. Such countries are in an invidious position. Display the lights and you may be characterized as a lackey of the West. Don’t display the lights and appear unsympathetic to the victims.

Facebook blue white and red Paris
author provided/courtesy J. Smith

Support also is embedded in a parallel Facebook function that allows members to activate a tri-colour filter. Adapted from a rainbow filter used to support same-sex marriage, this filter attracts those with liberal sentiments.

The question of whether to use the French flag to show sympathy for the victims is invidious at a personal level. Many people find themselves exploited and condemned to poverty by neoliberal economic models. They are put in a difficult position. They feel sympathy for the victims. However, they are bitter about how they are being treated by “the West”, including France.

Perils of an ‘us and them’ mindset

As the blue, white and red activism plays out around the globe, there is a potential for this to transform into a symbolic manifestation of an “us and them” mentality. Such a division would support xenophobic forces, which steer recruits towards IS.

The global impact of the attacks can be related to the iconic status of Paris. The attacks hold a personal dimension for millions of people who have visited this city. They have a sense of “there but for the grace of God, go I”. This emotion echoes responses to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

The Japanese and Italian cafes included in the attacks are symbolic targets for their countries. In March 2015, IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnan stated that the group would attack “Paris, before Rome”. Rome is a target because of its symbolic role as the centre of Christianity. Japan is a target because of its role in coalition forces. It has already suffered the execution of Japanese hostages early in 2015.

In Japan, the cultural reaction has been relatively low key, as part of a strategy of minimising terrorist attention. The blue, white and red lights solidarity received minimal press coverage. There have been few reports of the Japanese restaurant that was one of the targets. In addition to factual coverage of the attacks, Japanese reports have concentrated on implications for security at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Are there any symbols indicating good news? The Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers could be a sign of weakness. It could have been “planted” there – why carry a passport on a suicide mission?

If so, its purpose is to increase European xenophobia and encourage the closing of borders to Syrian refugees. This suggests the mass exodus of Muslim refugees from Syria is hurting IS. The propaganda could be a sign of alarm in IS leadership ranks.

In our responses to the Paris attacks, the grief of the West should not be allowed to overshadow the opprobrium of Muslim countries. Muslims are best placed to challenge the Islamic identity of this self-declared state.

As Queen Rania states, the war against IS must be led by Muslims and Arabs. To ensure success, the international community needs to support, not lead, Muslim efforts.

The Conversation

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Research Associate in Archaeology, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Professor of Archaeology, Kyushu University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pinterest Is Now Valued at $11 Billion


TIME

Pinterest has raised $367 million in a new round of funding that more than doubles the website’s valuation to $11 billion.

The latest funding round, revealed Monday, lifts the social bookmarking service’s valuation from from $5 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal, moving the company even higher up the list of tech industry “unicorns” — startups valued higher than $1 billion. What’s more, Pinterest said in its regulatory filing that it also plans to raise another $210 million in the current funding round.

The newly raised funds will go toward international expansion, according to WSJ, which reported last month that Pinterest was seeking funding that would value the company at about $11 billion.

As Fortune has noted, Pinterest is part of a growing group of tech startups with ballooning valuations and a potential prime candidate for a blockbuster IPO at some point this year.

Pinterest reached its…

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