It’s no secret that the prominence and importance of social media has grown tremendously in the last decade. Facebook, Instagram and particularly Twitter have become key tools in political engagement of all sorts. Candidates, journalists and extremist groups alike have seen the outreach level of Twitter, and have used this engagement to build networks and create a narrative for themselves. Donald Trump has been revolutionary in his use of Twitter by engaging with his electorate directly. We haven’t seen a president use Twitter this much and by his own hand. Due to Twitter’s international presence, his tweets can have an enormous impact on the United States’ diplomacy initiatives worldwide. Therefore, we offer his team some guidance about how to potentially better their messaging abroad.
While many have criticized President Trump, few have presented real solutions. I believe that the issue isn’t with Trump’s use of Twitter, but how he uses it and the impact of his word choice and slant. In order to make Twitter a public diplomacy tool, President Trump might step back and consider editing his tweets with a foreign as well as domestic audience in mind. This would require input from officials closer to foreign audiences We offer some examples of potential edits to some of Donald Trump’s more challenging tweets.
Donald Trump in this tweet defends his executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. The media largely covered the executive order as a ban on Muslims. His tweet, whether purposefully or not, continued the media narrative instead of projecting President Trump’s intent, which is well defined in the order name. Due to its perpetuation of a ban and not an action taken in the name of national security, Donald Trump’s tweet fails to counteract the prevalent narrative. This tweet creates a mismatch in rhetoric regarding the intentions and logistics of the executive order.
This kind of language helps clarify the intention and helps elucidate and promote a narrative of protecting the nation from dangers abroad. It also directs away from the media narrative of discrimination on the part of the executive branch. This tweet also steered away from the use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism”. This key erasure of Islamic from that term points to the root of the problem this order aims to solve, which is violent extremism, and the danger it poses to the United States.
Here, President Trump reacts to the 9th circuit court decision to not reinstate his executive order. The intent behind this tweet is decently sound, however the word choice and combative nature give it a harsh undertone. In his questioning of this decision, the tweet challenges the checks and balances system of our three-branch model of government. Donald Trump demonstrates a doubt in the structure of the US government, which could potentially compromise our confidence and high ground when fighting for true and functional democracies internationally.
First and foremost, this revision comes out and expresses Donald Trump’s respect for the court system that his original tweet calls into question. This way, he is not only showing respect for the system, he remains a part of it by expressing his intent to continue in the constitutional process. The edit expresses his commitment to the initiative, as it keeps the original language of the second part of the tweet.
In this tweet, Trump compares the meetings his staff had with Russian officials with formal meetings between two presidencies. He diminishes the strength of the presidency, as he questions the legitimacy of the enumerated power of the president to act on the part of the United States internationally. Without these powers, the public diplomacy initiatives worldwide are compromised, as the executive is the key to these processes. This poses a threat to his own presidency, as it reflects on the branch overall, and less on the Obama administration individually.
In the realm of public diplomacy, it is important to make the distinctions between diplomatic relations and potential international tampering. This Tweet isn’t the best reflection of President Trump’s dedication to preserving to dignity of the office of the presidency. We recommend against posting it at all, especially given the current ongoing investigation.
I hope President Trump can take these instances into account moving forward. It is a new reality with Twitter right at our fingertips, and adjusting is an important part of a presidency. Bringing in a communications team to fully develop these messages before they click send should become a consistent plan going forward. I hope President Trump can take into account the public diplomacy implications of these 140 characters.
Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.