Covfefe in Chief: Separation of Personal and Professional Twitter Use

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Sound familiar? These are some of the most iconic quotes from past presidents of the United States of America. These quotes have been immortalized through history books, some of them even captured on old “vintage” video recordings. What do all of these memorable messages have in common? None of them originated on Twitter. It may be hard to imagine, but in a time not-so-long-ago, there was no such thing as Twitter (or the internet, for that matter). There was no 140-character limit on a president’s message to the country. Today, the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, communicates with the country he runs almost exclusively through the social media platform, with little filter or hesitation.

There are many ways to look at the use of Twitter for elected political officials. Sure, it is a quick and efficient way of sending a message. It makes the president seem more accessible, more like “one of us” (even if he is tweeting from a golden throne in a multi-million dollar vacation home). And while much of Donald Trump’s campaign was run on being an “outsider” to the government who “calls his own shots”, there is definitely a sense of danger in his decision to tweet seemingly without supervision. There have been dozens of tweets by the president (often those sent out in a late-night frenzy) that were later deleted, likely at the discretion of his political advisers. However, the internet never forgets and the tweets live on through screenshots and databases, which is just one of a dozen reasons for Trump to be a bit more careful about what he decides to tweet.

But should a president really speak so casually on important political matters, especially on a personal account? Should he be tweeting passive aggressive comments about other world leaders and officials (like his recent comments about the mayor of London, for example)? This is a gray area in American politics, as it is essentially unprecedented. While former president Barack Obama did use Twitter, he did so most often on the official account for the president of the United States (@POTUS) as opposed to a personal account (which he does have: @BarackObama). Donald Trump often posts multiple times a day to his personal account (@realDonaldTrump) about political issues and government business. Here’s where the issue gets a bit sticky.

In my opinion, the president of the United States’ personal social media use should be restricted. While I do understand that many elected officials have personal accounts on which they promote their campaigns or discuss issues, it just feels different at such a high level of power. The President of the United States is the leader of the free world. Everything that a person in this position says or does is scrutinized and watched closely. Donald Trump has access to a legitimate, government-run, highly monitored twitter account through the official @POTUS handle. He often chooses to forgo that option in order to tweet his seemingly unhinged thoughts directly on his personal account. The tweets coming from the @POTUS account are clearly composed by someone other than the president himself, as they are much more professional and aim to be more informative, objective messages. The clear distinction between the two accounts in both tone and content gives the impression that Trump prefers to speak (or post, rather) unfiltered, and does not want anyone telling him “no sir, you probably shouldn’t post that”. In reality, there really should be someone telling him (or any president, for that matter) when something is inappropriate to post to social media. Being “filtered” is part of the job, and for good reason.

Here are my biggest issues with Trump’s tweeting obsession: he doesn’t know when to stop, and he doesn’t seem to realize the true impact that his words have. Like many famous figures, Trump has a “following”. There are people who hang on his every word, and whether it’s because they love him or because they hate him; people are listening and watching closely. When Trump tweets that CNN and other news sources are “fake news”, that has an impact on the perceived credibility of those organizations. When Trump sends out a petty tweet about a celebrity he doesn’t like that day, the celebrity is sure to face harassment and hate from his followers within minutes (if not seconds), whether it is truly deserved or not. These kinds of subjective tweets regarding “fake news” and “alternative facts” should be reserved for citizens who are forming their own opinions on the political climate of our country. The president himself should be responsible for sharing REAL facts on the official platform he’s been given, instead of playing into conspiracy theories and gossip. Trump’s personal tweets have largely contributed to sensationalist stories with little basis in reality, spreading fear and paranoia to his loyal voter base without even bothering to fact-check first.

Try to imagine it this way: You work for a very large, well-known company. You run their professional social media accounts, on which you share the work you do daily and the progress that your company is making in the industry. However, on your public, personal account, you tweet constantly about how horrible your competitors are, how corrupt the industry is, how unfair the market is. Constant negativity and frequent nasty remarks about your own line of work. Do you think the company you worked for would be very happy with how you were representing them on your own account? There needs to be a clear line between personal and professional Twitter use in the presidency, just as there is in the real world for all of us. We, as working professionals, monitor our social media use because we know that what we post is seen as a reflection of our employer. For us, the American people, our unfiltered, impulsive posts have real consequences. Donald Trump needs to start viewing his own Twitter use the same way, because his posts are a reflection of not only our government, but the United States as a whole.

What do you think? Should there be a distinction between personal and professional Twitter use in the presidency? Do you think Trump’s personal Twitter use is potentially dangerous to our society? And what does #covfefe really mean?

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