If you go to his page, which I try not to, and stare into it like the night sky, sometimes you can catch one in real time.
A Trump tweet that is. You’ll have hours of nothing and then WHOOSH, a streak of white hot ignorance cuts through the Twittersphere, leaving behind it a flaming wake of likes and an ever-lengthening streak of comments.
Like most shooting stars, the tweets are just flaming trash en route to either self-immolation or a crash landing, but something about it still captivates us. We’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the meteor shower of typos, bigotry, provocation, and insouciance flung by President Trump, but we still can’t quite believe our eyes.
(And likewise, I often find myself using Trump tweets as occasions to cast wishes into the void of space.)
But lately, the morning dusting of fiery content from the White House seems a bit heavier, the projectiles more weighty and more frequent, their impacts leaving more damage, cratering the discourse. After staring slackjawed at the spectacle of TOTUS (that T is for troll) as the firestorm from his thumbs ramps up, one thing is certain: It’s not pretty.
This past week has seen Trump elevate his troll game on Twitter into something that can only be described by an unfortunate term I have no interest in putting here. The term in question designates a social media style that relies on relentless nuisance posting of memes, comments, and unfunny jokes purely as a means of sadistic self-gratification.
KnowYourMeme.com has the most useful summation: “an Internet slang term describing a range of user misbehaviors and rhetoric on forums and message boards that are intended to derail a conversation off-topic, including thread jacking [another word I probably can’t put here], and non-commercial spamming.”
Over the past week, we’ve seen the president perch on his wire to drop messy conspiracy theories about a deep state coup, insult members of Congress, insinuate that his impeachment would trigger a civil war, and perhaps worst of all, share a Nickelback song (since removed for copyright violations; a slight consolation.)
It would all seem like the desperate ravings of the most powerful man in the world who is losing touch with reality in front of 65 million followers if . . . oh wait I guess it does seem like that, doesn’t it?
Granted, like many other numbers associated with Trump, his Twitter metrics are the products of wild inflation. Glance at the comments that clog any of his tweets and you’ll notice that most of those in his online infantry either have follower counts in the low teens or the hundred-thousands. It’s hard to say who is really along for the ride.
But whether you follow him or not (I follow the “Unfollow Trump” account, which posts his tweets without contributing to his count), the fallout from his tweetstorms goes well beyond the browser. His unchecked abuse of the platform authorizes harassment and trolling from the highest levels of our society — revels in it, even. And if the process of removing Trump from office seems unlikely to succeed, let the ongoing attempts to get him kicked off of Twitter show you how it’s not done.
Senator, presidential hopeful, and Maya Rudolph impersonator Kamala Harris this week issued a public plea to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to remove Trump from the platform for “blatant threats that put people at risk and our democracy in danger” (and, oh yeah, run afoul of the Terms of Service that we all clicked “Sure, fine, whatever” to).
And Recode founder Kara Swisher wrote a searing op-ed in The New York Times titled “Donald Trump Is Too Dangerous for Twitter,” in an attempt to galvanize a growing chorus of exhausted, feed-weary users wondering why, if there is indeed a @Jack, does he allow bad things to happen to good tweeters.
“With this latest move by the troller in chief, with no reaction from Twitter, it’s official that the medium has been hijacked by those who want to take advantage of its porous and sloppy rules,” Swisher wrote. “It is incumbent on the giant social platforms to prevent the president from dangerously weaponizing their tools.”
Twitter’s standard defense for allowing Trump to run rampant is the newsworthiness of his tweets; and rather than remove Trump’s dangerous posts, the fix is rather to affix a “notice” to his most egregious violations that users must click through before seeing the tweet, offered “to provide additional context and clarity.” Sort of like a sign posted inside of a burning house to let you know it’s on fire.
It’s all part of Twitter’s mission to “protect the health of the public conversation,” whatever that means. In the meantime, not to bury the lead, but the sky is falling. Is that newsworthy?