Politics in the time of Twitter

Politics in the time of Twitter

In two weeks it’s really happening. The US will get a celebrity president, elected by popular ballot and not simply the winner of a TV show called America’s Next President.

As such, the incoming president has his very own way of communicating with the outside world. Forget boring late night talk shows, you just need to follow the President on Twitter!

Although every world leader has a social media account these days, it’s only The Donald who uses it to share his opinion on everything and everyone – from presidents and countries to his mobile phone service and Neil Young songs.

It’s launched us into a new reality where journalists and politicians try to unravel the new president’s policy goals based on his 140-character messages.

Two days ago, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders brought a poster-size print of a Donald Trump tweet to the Senate to underline his argument.

In this tweet from May 2015 Trump said he wanted no cuts to social security, Medicare and Medicaid. Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton for the Democrats’ nomination, concluded that Trump had either lied or he should veto any social security cuts.

While I found it amusing to see that massive tweet on display like it was a piece of art, I’m afraid there’s not much use in trying to treat Trump’s tweets as a form of contract.

After all, Trump says a lot of things. Here you can see the complete list of insults Trump’s sent out on Twitter since announcing his candidacy in June 2015.

Anyone who thought he’d change his ways after he’d been elected President faces bitter disappointment. Only yesterday Trump called the Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer the ‘head clown’.

Outgoing Vice-President Joe Biden may have spoken on behalf of the entire world when he implored Trump to use his social media more responsibly.

“Grow up Donald, grow up, time to be an adult,” Biden said in an interview with PBS. “You’re President. You got to do something. Show us what you have.”

Although that appeal makes total sense, it’ll probably fall on deaf ears.

For one thing, Trump is 70 years old. If you reach that age and still act like a bored teenager with too much time on your hands, then there’s little hope for rehabilitation.

And let’s not forget that the President-elect isn’t a politician. He’s a bug in the system, elected on a most unconventional campaign. He’s the anti-politician who is supposed to fight the establishment.

That’s why Trump will do things the way he’s used to doing them – whichever way he wants.

I have little faith Trump will clean up his act once he’s moved into the White House. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him live tweeting meetings with foreign leaders or commenting on his life as the President:

“What’s the point of living in the White House if you don’t have a view? Only 3 stories high – Trump Tower has 58 floors. Sad!”

Trump so far seems to have little appetite to take a break from Twitter. Even if he decides to use the US President’s account (@POTUS), it’s unlikely he’ll stop sending out controversial tweets from his own account (@realDonaldTrump).

It’d therefore be useful if the press were briefed to treat his account the way students are told to treat Wikipedia: ‘It’s not a reliable source so don’t ever refer to it. Find a better source.’

But what are the odds of that happening?

Treating Trump’s Twitter page as a reliable publication does have some potentially serious implications.

Like it or not, the tweets he sends out have influence on the real world. When he criticised Toyota on Twitter yesterday, he sent the company’s stock lower.

It’s therefore been argued that Trump’s Twitter handle is an appealing target for hackers. Due to the unpredictability of his tweets, it’s said that it’d be relatively easy to impersonate him.

As Trump’s spoken out about politicians, countries, and companies before, one tweet from his account could easily manipulate stocks or create geopolitical tension.

Possibly even more concerning is that the accounts of high profile politicians don’t appear to be more secure than others.

Last year the account of Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders had been temporarily taken over and Trump himself was hacked in 2013.

“Many of these infiltrations didn’t require sophisticated skills or the ability to hack Twitter,” a Buzzfeed article claims.

“According to multiple people who have managed the campaign of social media accounts of Hillary Clinton and President Obama, as well as the official presidential account, Twitter does not have any special security measures for politicians.”

But even if no one were to get access to Trump’s account, it could still have important consequences. The problem with Twitter as a platform is that it doesn’t allow for a whole lot of nuance.

Besides Trump stepping on an awful lot of toes, the limit of 140 characters could leave many of his messages open to interpretation. Cue: more uncertainty.

“140 characters of unfiltered Trump is likely to create tensions with America’s largest trading partners,” Mark O’Byrne of GoldCore Ltd is quoted by Bloomberg.

“Markets that are already shaken by the fallout from Brexit, the coming elections in Europe and indeed the increasing spectre of cyber warfare could again see a safe-haven bid.”

Translation: gold could shoot up again. Bloomberg reckons gold could increase by 13 per cent this year based on the opinions of 26 analysts.

Among the reasons they give for a higher gold price, they cite the US’s deteriorating relationship with China, the complicated Brexit procedure, elections in European countries, and, yes, “Trump’s frequent Twitter posts”.

Just before the election President Obama said in a speech that someone who can’t handle their Twitter account shouldn’t have nuclear codes, but that didn’t stop Trump from getting elected.

Welcome to politics in 2017.