To tweet or not to tweet

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Image: IDGNS

A little bit of restraint goes a long way on social media, unless you're Donald Trump, says Billy MacInnes

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27 September 2019 | 0

In a week of huge headlines and massive news stories, it would be easy to miss an interesting press release from data visualisation company Zegami dated 23 September. concerning President Trump’s use of Twitter. The US president is famous/notorious (delete as appropriate) for his preference for Twitter as the main platform to let people know what’s on his mind and what topics are preoccupying him the most at any given point in time.

For its sins, Zegami reviewed every tweet Trump had posted between 18 July 2009 and 28 August 2019 – and that’s a lot of tweets, more than 40,000 in fact. It found that, on average, he has posted 11 tweets a day but the pace has picked up significantly in recent times. Between 25 May and 28 August 2019 as the challenges mounted around him, Trump’s daily tweet rate (DTR – I just made that up) increased by 83% to 20. While Zegami didn’t monitor this month, the suspicion is that the current scandal around the Ukraine phone call and the whistleblower’s memo could have served to send that DTR even higher in September.

Anyway, in a potentially uncomfortable endorsement for Apple, Zegami reported that Trump posted 98% of his 1,800 tweets in the period between the end of May and August this year using his iPhone. The company’s analysis of this near complete reliance on his iPhone is that those tweets are spontaneous with little input from his advisers. And to be fair, most people reading those tweets would probably conclude the same thing.

Timing is everything

In terms of when he tweets, the president’s favourite time is between 12pm and 5pm, which accounted for nearly 30% of all tweets, with close to 20% of tweets posted between 5pm and 10pm. Trump proved himself to be something of a night owl with 14.6% of tweets posted between 1am and 5am.

In 2019, Trump mentioned himself 225 times in the period up to 28th August. Former president Obama, who Trump replaced in January 2017, merited 59 mentions in the same period, more than “fakes news media” with 55. Quite why Trump would devote so many mentions to his predecessor, equivalent to more than a quarter of his own, could make for an interesting psychological case study.

Commenting on the results, Samuel Conway, CEO and co-founder of Zegami, said that “analysing his Twitter data and spotting trends and patterns visually gives us an insightful view into how he thinks and what motivates him”.

Which is the whole point, obviously. Although, from a national security point of view, you have to wonder whether that’s such a good thing given that how the president thinks and what motivates him would be glaringly apparent to the country’s enemies and rivals as well.

That said, part of the attraction for his followers is that Trump appears to be uninhibited in tweeting as he thinks and very often that coincides with what they think. So any attempt to discipline his use of Twitter could weaken the attractiveness of his account and diminish its effectiveness as a political platform.

For the rest of us, however, the fact our Twitter accounts can be analysed and used to identify trends and patterns into how we think and what motivates us should probably serve to make us more cautious about what we tweet. In other words, if you want to make sure no one knows exactly what you’re thinking, think before you tweet.

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