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article imageOp-Ed: Trump’s Twitter wars — What do the Twitter numbers mean?

By Paul Wallis     Jul 16, 2019 in Politics
Washington - If President Trump has a reputation for anything, it’s creating conflict. In business, in politics and in all types of media, the guy starts a war wherever he goes. Nowhere is this more obvious than on his nigh-legendary Twitter account.
In the quest of trying to find some news worth reading to write about, (global media is only really interesting to people who have nothing to do with it), I checked out the threads on Trump’s Twitter account. This account gets more media coverage than some wars and most disasters, so I thought I’d check it out.
This account is a propaganda tool in its own right. A survey stated recently that “one in five adult Americans follow Trump on Twitter”. Of course this also means that four in five DON’T follow him, but why quibble? A large enough number of those users, following or not, go to great lengths to disagree with him, too. In one of his earliest Tweets, one user commented “I’m just worried you’re going to get us all killed with your f***ing Twitter account.”
Meanwhile, in the midst of this championing of his Twitter following, Trump is apparently worried about reducing numbers of followers. The Supreme Court has also dismissed his right to block users.
So how effective is the Trump Twitter stream? It’s not obvious
Short answer – The content is very predictable if you know his style and who his audience is. The usual comments are all regularly made about friends, foes, former associates (like former Republican Congressional leader Paul Ryan), etc. If you think that’s interesting, it is interesting, if more than a bit repetitive.
Let’s start with the basic issues:
1. “Followers” doesn’t mean actual supporters as such. Any US president will attract a very large number of journalists, political scientists, marketers, etc.
2. His Twitter stream is effectively a news feed, due to his publicity style. Content is monitored, not necessarily acted upon or particularly significant.
3. A small part of his tweets are retweets of favourable links.
The real interest is in the numbers of responses and types of responses to specific types of tweets:
• Such a huge following doesn’t seem to get over 170K user likes on any one Tweet. Most likes are much lower, and the overall picture is blurry at best.
• Most of his personal tweets get four to five digit likes. Those which relate to his more self-serving statements rate a lot higher. Some, like his claim of a 97 percent approval rating, were very popular, despite most polls putting his approval at around 47 percent. His claim of 97 percent on Twitter got 105K likes.
• A not-very-well-defined proportion of responses are negative. They were enough to make Trump want to delete them, but there are no real numbers regarding these hostile tweets and counter-tweets.
• Passive followers are also hardly new. Unused accounts alone, for example, could give a totally different picture of the reach of Trump’s Twitter feed. Point being that active users are a better measure of effectiveness of tweets.
The risks of interpretation
It’s way too easy to simply point out faults and flaws in Trump’s Twitter persona, which has taken on a life of its own. Are there easily defined patterns? Are the likes and follower numbers manipulated? Why are the likes numbers all over the place?
There are plenty of questions, but the answers need to be well researched. Getting it wrong would be an own goal for Trump opponents. The theory that anything anti-Trump is fake is ingrained. Accusations would clog global media for months. Accurate analysis is required.
Given that the Trump campaign began based on social media, and the Cambridge Analytica train wreck that followed a few questions need answering. Exactly how Trump’s social media operations are managed is a natural issue for investigation. The numbers are saying different things, and the image, if still towering over the social media landscape, is getting somewhat flaky in terms of plausibility.
Trump has been a marketing exercise since Day One, and marketing exercises often produce a lot of information and collateral information. It’s the collateral information which may be the key to the facts behind Trump’s Twitter realities.
This is important, because a lot of US heavyweight media are saying Trump is winning the popularity contest online. On that basis, they’re predicting re-election in 2020. Maybe studying the working machinery might be a good idea?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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