How Twitter operates in the Trump era

The White House wants the media to pay more attention to political Twitter, which it claims to be engaging with more deeply than conventional media outlets. The president’s two top communications aides, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, made the case for the press to spend more time focusing on social media on Tuesday. “That’s your job. That’s your business,” Conway said, according to Axios.

It’s true that the number of social media accounts, with both verified and fake profiles, is growing — but the number of people and organizations posting these messages isn’t increasing as quickly. The latest reports from the data service SocialBlade place the “Kremlin disinformation dominance” as 2016 trends on Twitter. More than 190,000 fake accounts with Russian links were active on Twitter and almost 2.4 million were engaged by the accounts, the analysis shows.

White House talking points call for journalists to spend more time on platforms like Twitter that are used by “substantially more Americans.” Their argument fails to account for the sheer lack of information available in late 2016. Less than 10 percent of Americans were following news on Twitter. It might be different this time around.

Trump has a number of fake Twitter accounts that he uses as propaganda tools. Including, much to his fans’ chagrin, one that is occasionally used as a parody account (@realDonaldTrump).

Unverified accounts, such as @GetTacoBell — a green-mailing campaign by an anonymous account registered in Scotland that claims to have challenged Taco Bell’s franchise agreements with restaurants— and @FactsUnTold, an account directed at the largely left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center, are a lot less consistent with the message they are messaging.

But even by these measures, the social media landscape has certainly changed since 2016. Early on in the Obama presidency, six major entities controlled the largest audience for political tweets, including Trump’s own personal account. His first tweet — the event-based, short-lived, absurd, and often bitter — for his victory had 313,000 retweets and 426,000 likes. Four years later, the number of people following Trump on Twitter have almost doubled, to nearly 4 million. By comparison, there are now almost 30 million people that follow the president.

So, in fact, there is nothing that Twitter can do to keep us from paying attention to the news on a nightly basis. Rather, it’s the party lines that reporters would love to straddle.

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