Is Trump’s Twitter Use Changing How Politicians Communicate?

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From outbursts and accusations, to criticizing actress Meryl Streep and others, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s bold use of Twitter has been a source of frustration and fascination for the public. But is he impulsively sharing his thoughts or is it a brilliant media strategy?

University of Guelph political science professor Tamara Small researches social media use among Canadian politicians. Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, she talks about Trump’s use of Twitter, and what Canadian politicians might learn from it.

Do you think Trump is being strategic in his use of Twitter or just typing what he thinks in the moment?

I think it’s a bit of both. His tweeting style is consistent with who he is as a person — he’s always been bombastic. He’s also distrustful of many institutions, including the media. Twitter allows him to avoid dealing with the media and communicate directly with the people. And it captures their attention. That’s the strategic part.

What makes Trump’s use of Twitter effective?

His tweets look like what a regular person would say. For example, “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!” It looks more like what a regular person would say, rather than a politician. On Twitter, Trump can say a multitude of things and doesn’t have to answer questions. This is good for politicians — there’s no detail, no context, just a sound bite. But the public should be concerned about politics in 140 characters by politicians of any stripe.

A recent poll shows more than half of all voting Americans think Trump should stop using Twitter after his inauguration. Do you agree?

Professor Tamara Small on politicians and social media.

University of Guelph political science professor Tamara Small.

This is more about Donald Trump as a person than about the president using Twitter. Prior to Trump, we lauded politicians for using social media. Barack Obama used Twitter and people loved it, and I don’t think anybody would suggest Justin Trudeau should shut down his Twitter account. Once Trump is president, I think he’ll keep tweeting, but I do think it’s time for him to stop using Twitter for things like dissing Meryl Streep or discussing foreign policy. But, this is who Donald Trump is. He has never hidden who he is, and this is whom the American people elected.

Do you think this is the future for elections — will more of them be fought on social media?

Not necessarily. Donald Trump is an atypical political candidate. Most politicians could not use Twitter in this way, and talk about people the way he does and get away with it.

Do you think we’ll see a change in the way Canadian politicians use social media?

I think the cork is already out of the bottle. Even in traditional media, speeches have been getting shorter and shorter. Politicians don’t want to do long talks with details on their policies or answer media questions. Most voters don’t want to listen to them, either, so we’re not going to make them. However, Canadian politicians don’t have the same size audience that Trump does. Kevin O’Leary is another bombastic reality show star who just announced his entry into Canadian politics. I’m sure his team is watching Donald Trump’s tactics closely.