Trump Trend: Is Twitter the New Reality TV?

Posted on February 13, 2017 by Marian Salzman

Originally posted on Medium.com.

Whether you see it as the weaponization of tweets or the modernization of the bully pulpit, there is no denying that Donald Trump’s love and deployment of Twitter has completely redefined the way Americans — and people around the world — follow politics. (That’s “Follow” with the little blue person and plus sign.) And no amount of Sunday morning brow furrowing, op-ed tut-tutting or pundit hand-wringing is going to change the fact that 24.5 million people tune in and hang on to his every little digital missive.

The celebrity POTUS has his finger on the little blue button, and he has no problem going nuclear, especially early in the morning (all the better to drive the news cycle). And, honestly, who can resist? It’s the best show on right now — at least for a staggering number of Americans.

In a survey that my agency, Havas PR North America, conducted immediately after the New England Patriots’ incredible Super Bowl win, more than one-quarter (26 percent) of respondents agreed with the statement “Politics these days are much more exciting than the Super Bowl.” This view is even more common among Americans under the age of 46 (30 percent) than those over age 46 (16 percent).

With @realDonaldTrump, the president has created his greatest achievement: a character more compelling than the Donald Trump he played on “The Apprentice,” more combative than the frequent “Fox & Friends” caller and “The View” guest who demanded to see a birth certificate, and — at nearly 35,000 tweets — more sprawling, self-aggrandizing and successful than the Trump Taj Mahal.

Forget reality television. This is where the action is.

Although we all loved Obama’s deft use of social media to inspire and organize a new generation of voters, the calls for collaboration honored the respect of advisers and his role in being the “Leader of the Free World.”

In the hyperpartisan obstructionism and seething fury of Washington, Obama’s reality social media stopped feeling real. It was scripted, infrequent, measured, earnest, humorless — the opposite of everything social media is supposed to be.

Trump, on the other hand, gives us the social media we all know and experience every day: contradictory, impulsive, poorly punctuated and full of misspellings, with memes, hashtags and links to questionable sites to back up sweeping claims. And once in a while, when we are lucky, in all caps.

And while those organizations and individuals whose success hinges on serving as gatekeepers between public figures and stakeholders may decry it as a travesty, it is without a doubt one of the most powerful examples of an elected official engaging directly with constituents. And, even better — they engage back! Every Trump tweet devolves into a cage match of responses and retorts from supporters and detractors alike, often LOL funny.

For a notoriously thin-skinned man who regularly rails against the media, Trump shows tremendous and commendable willingness to put himself out there for criticism, rebuke and ridicule by regular citizens. Not only does it make for heated debate and great entertainment, but this freedom to publicly speak out against leaders is also an essential part of the liberties enshrined in the First Amendment. It is what the Founding Fathers hoped to achieve when they created a representative democracy — to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.

[photo: creativecommons.org/Esther Vargas]

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