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Trump's Oval Office, by Ben Jennings

Trump’s tweetniques for controlling the news

In a series of tweets published today by George Lakoff, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, Lakoff dissects four methods used by President Trump to control social media.

His analysis comes just days after Tim Montgomerie and former Labour MP Gisela Stuart wrote a piece for UnHerd on the subject of misrepresentation by the media. In Tim’s piece he references remarks made by the historian Niall Ferguson, who notes that the media and people at large give disproportionate attention to what Trump says rather than what his administration does.

Lakoff argues that Trump’s use of social media is “tactical rather than substantive” and he uses it to control the news cycle. He suggests that Trump’s tweets usually fall in to one of four categories:

“The tweets either get his framing established first, knowing that whoever frames first tends to win. Or when things look bad for him, he diverts attention or attacks the messenger. And when he wants to test public opinion, he puts out an outrageous trial balloon.”

The tweets are then shared ‘ad infinitum’ by reporters, influencers and the general public, suggests Lakoff, thus increasing Trump’s reach and distracting people from other news items. Even those who think that they’re undermining Trump by exposing the flaws in his tweets are in fact helping him by simply extending his sphere of influence.

Lakoff argues that any sort of retweeting or commenting on Trump’s tweets focuses people on him and his antics, thus making him seem more important. Repetition of tweets embeds his messages in the minds of his followers and non-followers alike.

He concludes by suggesting that the way to combat Trump and his monopoly on social media is to take the means of control away from him. This doesn’t mean banning him from Twitter – it simply means not giving his tweets the coverage (both positive and negative) that they currently receive:

“We have the power stop him. But we must stop letting him control our media — and our minds. It’s time to give Trump a Twitter Time Out. Let’s shrink him down to size. Let’s take this weapon out of his hands. Think of Trump as a puppeteer, his tweets as the strings, and anyone who retweets/shares him as the puppet. Cut the damn strings!”