The Twitter social media platform launched in 2006, but neither of the first two presidents of the Twitter era, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have utilized the outlet to the extent that Donald Trump has, posting 9,405 tweets since his Inauguration Day, according to The Trump Twitter Archive. That’s an average rate of more than 10 tweets per day in the 927 days of his term so far.
Why does Trump tweet at such a frantic pace? During his 2016 campaign, as Politico reported, Trump promised to give up tweeting once he was inaugurated. “We won’t tweet anymore,” he pledged. But clearly the opposite has happened.
Perhaps the most popular theory to explain Trump’s seemingly obsessive tweeting is, as Washington Post political columnist Kathleen Parker wrote, that Trump’s tweets are designed as tactics of distraction, to divert public and media attention away from subjects that could prove damaging to Trump toward topics on which he prefers to focus.
New evidence from a scientific research study has now shown that Trump’s tweets are successful in distracting the media and the public from issues that Trump finds threatening. Specifically, according to a new study by Australian psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky, and reported by Salon.com, Trump’s “diversionary” tweets were highly successful in reducing major media coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between Trump and Russia in the 2016 campaign.
According to Lewandowsky, as quoted by Salon, his research found “quantitative evidence” that “the media respond to the distraction by reducing their coverage of the threatening theme that triggered the distraction in the first place.”
Lewandowsky zeroed in on The New York Times and ABC News, measuring whether those outlets reduced coverage of the Mueller investigation while increasing focus on the topics of Trump’s tweets, whatever those happened to be. The study tested the response of those media outlets to specific words used in Trump tweets at times when news of Mueller’s Russia probe was breaking in the press, as Raw Story reported.
The researcher and his team found that, specifically, when Trump increased this usage of the words “jobs,” “China” and “North Korea,” in his tweets following revelations about the ongoing Russia investigation, those words suddenly increased in The Times and on ABC News, even as their focus on the Mueller revelations decreased. The study found, however, that Trump’s use of the words “wall” and “immigration” failed to produce the same “distracting” effect.
As a result, public interest in the Mueller investigation decreased, as the media downplayed the Russia probe in favor of topics set by Trump in his Twitter postings, according to Lewandowsky.
“The diversion works,” the psychologist said, quoted by Salon writer Paul Rosenberg. “The president sets the agenda — contrary to decades of conventional wisdom on agenda-setting.”
Trump use the same “diversionary” techniques during the 2016 campaign. During the final 150 days of the campaign an investigation by The Guardian caught Trump in about 100 public falsehoods, while his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton was found to have made only about a dozen false statements.
Yet as a result of his Twitter “distractions,” and other techniques, according to Lewandowsky, Trump was able to cause the public to perceive him as more honest than Clinton. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released just days before the November election, 46 percent of voters described Trump as “honest and trustworthy,” while only 36 percent saw Clinton the same way.