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.

#IStandWithDan, #DictatorDan, #DanLiedPeopleDied: 397,000 tweets reveal the culprits behind a dangerously polarised debate


Timothy Graham, Queensland University of Technology; Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology; Daniel Angus, Queensland University of Technology; Edward Hurcombe, Queensland University of Technology, and Samuel Hames, Queensland University of Technology

The Victorian government’s handling of the state’s second coronavirus wave attracted massive Twitter attention, both in support of and against the state’s premier Daniel Andrews.

Our research, published in the journal Media International Australia reveals much of this attention was driven by a small, hyper-partisan core of highly active participants.

We found a high proportion of active campaigners were anonymous “sockpuppet” accounts — created by people using fake profiles for the sole purpose of magnifying their view.

What’s more, very little activity came from computer-controlled “bot” accounts. But where it did, it was more common from the side campaigning against Andrews.

A larger concern which emerged was the feedback cycle between anti-Andrews campaigners (both genuine and inauthentic), political stakeholders and partisan mainstream media which flung dangerous, fringe ideas into the spotlight.

A few highly-charged accounts driving debate

In mid-to-late 2020, thousands of Australian Twitter users split themselves into two camps: those who supported Andrews’ handling of the second wave and those who didn’t.

We looked at 397,000 tweets from 40,000 Twitter accounts engaging in content with three hashtags: #IStandWithDan, #DictatorDan and #DanLiedPeopleDied.

Our comprehensive analysis revealed pro-Dan activity greatly outnumbered the dissent. #IStandWithDan featured in 275,000 tweets. This was about 2.5 times more than #DictatorDan and 13 times more than #DanLiedPeopleDied.

A hashtag network showing the polarised Twitter discussions in support of (red) and against (blue) Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.
This hashtag network shows the polarised Twitter discussions in support of (red) and against (blue) Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Activity on both sides was mostly driven by a small but highly-active subset of participants.

The top 10% of accounts posting #IStandWithDan were behind 74% of the total number of these tweets. This figure was similar for the top 10% of accounts posting anti-Andrews hashtags — and the same pattern applied to retweet behaviour.

Our findings challenge the idea of Twitter as the true voice of the public. Rather, what we saw was a small number of pro- and anti-government campaigners that could mobilise particular Twitter communities on an ad hoc basis.

This suggests it only takes a small (but concentrated) effort to get a political hashtag trending in Australia.




Read more:
The story of #DanLiedPeopleDied: how a hashtag reveals Australia’s ‘information disorder’ problem


Who started the campaigns?

Our analysis showed Liberal state MP Tim Smith was instrumental in making the #DictatorDan hashtag go viral.

It was in low circulation until May 17, when Smith created a Twitter poll asking whether Andrews should be labelled “Dictator Dan” or “Chairman Dan”.

Subsequent growth of #DictatorDan activity was driven largely by far-right commentator Avi Yemini and his followers, along with a key group for fringe right-wing politics in Australian Twitter.

Meanwhile, #DanLiedPeopleDied went viral later on August 12, sparked by another right-wing group led by a handful of outspoken members. This group managed to get the hashtag trending nationally.

This attracted Yemini’s attention. The same day the hashtag started trending, he posted seven tweets and seven retweets with it to his then 128,000 followers. A considerable increase in activity ensued.

The hashtag #IStandWithDan had little activity until July 8, when it suddenly went viral with nearly 1,600 tweets. This spike coincided with the announcement of stage 3’s “stay at home” restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

Activity surrounding #IStandWithDan was driven by factors including the various stages of lockdown, attacks on Andrews from conservative media and the emergence of anti-Andrews Twitter campaigners.

Tweeting (loudly) from the shadows

We analysed the top 50 most active accounts tweeting each hashtag, to figure out how many of them didn’t belong to who they claimed and were in fact anonymous sockpuppet accounts.

We found 54% of the top 50 accounts posting anti-Andrews hashtags qualified as sockpuppets. This figure was 34% for accounts posting #IStandWithDan.

The onslaught from anonymously-run accounts on both sides had a massive impact. Just 27 sockpuppet accounts were behind 9% of all #DictatorDan tweets and 14% of all #DanLiedPeopleDied tweets.

Similarly, 17 accounts were responsible for 6% of all #IStandWithDan tweets.

Inauthentic activity

Many of the anti-Andrews accounts were created more recently than those posting pro-Andrews hashtags. The imbalance between new accounts posting pro- and anti-Andrews hashtags probably isn’t by chance.

Bar plot showing distribution of account creation years per hashtag
This graph shows the distribution of when accounts from both sides were created. From the accounts pushing the #DictatorDan tag, 19% were created this year — compared to 10.7% of accounts posting #IStandWithDan.

It’s more likely anti-Andrews activists deliberately created sockpuppets accounts to give the impression of greater support for their agenda than actually exists among the public.

The aim would be to use these fake accounts to fool Twitter’s algorithms into giving certain hashtags greater visibility.

Interestingly, despite accusations of bot activity from both sides, our work revealed bots actually accounted for a negligible amount of overall hashtag activity.

Of the top 1,000 accounts most frequently tweeting each hashtag, there were just 50 anti-Andrews bot accounts (which sent 264 tweets) and 11 pro-Dan accounts that posted #IStandWithDan (which sent 44 tweets).

Polarisation creates a feedback loop with media

Some of the ways news media engaged with (and amplified) the debate around Victoria’s lockdown helped stoke further division. On September 17, Sky News published the headline:

‘Dictator Dan’ is trying to build a ‘COVID Gulag’.

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt repeated the “Dictator Dan” label in both his blogs and widely read opinion columns, which were part of a much-criticised series attacking the premier.

Here, we witnessed the continuing problem of the “oxygen of amplification”, whereby news commentators amplify false, misleading and/or problematic content (intentionally or unintentionally) and thereby aid its creators.

The #DictatorDan hashtag was used to cast doubt on Andrews’ lockdown measures and establish a false equivalence between the two rivalling Twitter communities, despite Andrews’ having strong approval ratings throughout the pandemic.

The “debate” surrounding the premier’s lockdown measures even gained international attention in a Washington Post article, which Sky News used in a bid to legitimatise its “Dictator Dan” narrative. Yet, at the end Victoria emerged as the gold standard for second-wave coronavirus responses.




Read more:
Finally at zero new cases, Victoria is on top of the world after unprecedented lockdown effort


A polarised Twittersphere might be entertaining at times, but it sustains a vicious feedback loop between users and partisan media. Irresponsible news commentary provides fuel for Twitter users. This leads to more polarity, which leads to more media attention.

Those with a voice in the public sphere should ask critical moral questions about when (and whether) they engage with hyper-partisan content. In the case of COVID-19, it can carry life and death consequences.The Conversation

Timothy Graham, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology; Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology; Daniel Angus, Associate Professor in Digital Communication, Queensland University of Technology; Edward Hurcombe, Research associate, Queensland University of Technology, and Samuel Hames, Data Scientist, Queensland University of Technology

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

US House of Representatives condemns racist tweets in another heady week under President Donald Trump


Bruce Wolpe, University of Sydney

The past three days in US politics have been very difficult – and ugly.

President Donald Trump chose to exploit divisions inside the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives – generational and ideological – by attacking four new women members of Congress, denying their status as Americans and their legitimacy to serve in Congress. They are women of colour and, yes, they are from the far left of the Democratic Party. They have pushed hard against their leaders.

But Trump’s vicious, racist attacks on them have in fact solved the unity problem among the Democrats: they are today (re)united against Trump.




Read more:
Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


You can draw a straight line from Trump’s birther attacks on Obama, to his “Mexican rapists” attack when he announced his run for the presidency, to his Muslim immigration ban, to equivocating over Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to sending troops to the US-Mexico border, to shutting down the government, to declaring a national emergency, to what he is doing today.

And his attacks on these lawmakers is based on a lie: three of the congresswomen were born in America. One is an immigrant, now a citizen, and as American as any citizen – just like Trump’s wife.

I worked in the House of Representatives for ten years. I learned early that you do not impugn – you have no right to impugn – the legitimacy of an elected member of Congress. Only the voters can do that.

Other presidents have been racist. Lyndon Johnson worked with the southern segregationists. Nixon railed in private against Jews. But none have spoken so openly, so publicly, without shame or remorse for these sentiments. So this is new territory.

And this is unlike Charlottesville, where there was vocal and visible pushback from Republicans on Trump giving an amber light to the Nazis in the streets. This is how much the political culture and norms have corroded over the past two years.

The Democrats chose to fight back by bringing a resolution condemning Trump for his remarks to the House of Representatives floor. Historians are still scurrying, but it appears this is unprecedented – the house has never in its history, which dates to the 1790s, voted to condemn a president’s remarks. (The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson over banking issues in 1834.)

The house passed the measure almost along party lines, with only four Republicans out of 197 – just 2% – voting for the resolution.

The concluding words in the resolution are these:

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimised fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it resolved, That the House of Representatives […] condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders”, and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

So Trump is secure within his party – and he believes he has nothing to fear from the testimony of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, next week before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Much attention will be paid to the examination of obstruction-of-justice issues when Mueller testifies. But the more meaningful discussion will occur in the assessment by the intelligence committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the persistence of a Russian threat in 2020.

Mueller ended his Garbo-like appearance before the media in May with these words:

The central allegation of our indictments [is] that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interference in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

The US presidential election remains vulnerable and it is not clear that sufficient safeguards are being put in place to protect the country’s democracy.

But it is the unresolved drama over impeachment that will colour Mueller’s appearance on Wednesday.




Read more:
Explainer: what is a special counsel and what will he investigate in the Trump administration?


Mueller concluded he could not indict a sitting president. However, he forensically detailed ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Mueller said that if he believed Trump had not committed a crime he would have said so and that, as a result, he could not “exonerate” Trump.

The key question that will be asked of Mueller is: “If the record you developed on obstruction of justice was applied to any individual who was not president of the United States, would you have sought an indictment?”

And on the answer to that question turns the issue of whether there will be critical mass among House of Representatives Democrats, and perhaps supported by the American people, to vote for a bill of impeachment against Donald J. Trump.The Conversation

Bruce Wolpe, Non-resident senior fellow, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney

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

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.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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.