Trump in the Era of Social Media
Written by Caleb Asbury
Although President Trump is the first American president to use social media to announce policy changes and official government announcements. One question that has not been explored by news outlets is whether or not Trump’s use of social media is a sign of changing times and technology, or simply a change in presidential precedent.
President Trump is certainly not the first to use social media for political benefit; President Barack Obama used Facebook to reach millions of young people across the country by posting videos depicting Obama wearing aviator sunglasses and asking Vice President Joe Biden for fashion advice.
In addition, President Obama became one of the first U.S. President to have his weekly addresses posted to YouTube and, eventually, Facebook (Freking, 2017). Trump has maintained this tradition, but he has added a twist.
President Trump has recently started using Twitter to roll out new policy initiatives. In addition, Trump has used Twitter to publicly condemn and praise individuals whom he personally believes are right or wrong. His most notable rants include addressing the problem of a nuclear North Korea and attacking Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem. This would seem to indicate that Trump has learned from Obama about how to use social media effectively to communicate with the American people. However, there is one key difference.
Trump has made a name for himself in reality television and popular culture. Whether it is rappers mentioning his name as a metaphor for money, Trump and his family have been in the public eye ever since the 80s (Thomas, 2016). This kind of pedestal has created a culture around Trump, which he has embraced. In fact, in the 2016 election Trump used his experience in the entertainment industry to circumvent the established media and interact with the public via Twitter. This tactic is one that has been used only rarely in modern American politics.
Even President Obama only used Facebook to shore up support for initiatives he had previously announced through mainstream media. This new usage of social media to circumvent the establishment is, while not entirely original, an innovative electoral tactic that modern American politics has not seen. The question to be answered still remains, though; how does this shift in American politics affect real, hardworking people?
The simple answer is that the President can now communicate directly with the American people through social media. When the taxi driver in New York City takes his break and glances at his phone, he can now check the President’s Twitter feed to see what the White House is doing to make his life in New York easier or more difficult. The business executive in Seattle can now get an alert on her phone which will tell her how the President’s new policies could affect her investments.
One aspect of the President’s tweets that is interesting is that the President’s tweets have almost always been polarizing. His tweets tend to split Twitter users into the group who agree with the President’s statements and those who do not.
This kind of division can be good by promoting intelligent, informed discussion. Cyberbullying and violence, however, do not promote a strong democracy. Indeed, these activities are perhaps even signals of the collapse of an enlightened democracy and the rise of an authoritarian regime. Whether this situation devolves into a divide as deep as during the American Civil War is yet to be seen. This responsibility will fall squarely on the shoulders of the leaders of the Republican and Democratic Parties.
Although the future of America and her politics may not be certain, the path for any candidate seeking the Office of the President can be predicted with some degree of certainty. With the rise of social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, presidential candidates will need to become more creative in how they attract voters.
Presidents Trump and Obama have certainly been innovators of their respective times where this is concerned, but with the rate that technology and popular culture is changing, future candidates will have to work even harder to keep up with the pace so that they do not appear out of touch with their constituents.
Freking, K. (2017, January 6). Obama makes his mark as first ‘social media’ president. Retrieved from Seattle Times Web site: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation-politics/obama-makes-his-mark-as-first-social-media-president/
Thomas, Z. (2016, April 13). How did Donald Trump make his fortune? Retrieved from BBC News Web site: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-35836623