Bruce W. Hardy, Connor L. D. Phillips, & Heather L. Lamarre
Trump’s 100 day Twitter war on news
“Fake news” and “failing nytimes” were the two most tweeted phrases by @realDonaldTrump in his first hundred days of his presidency. With 28.5 million followers in tow, the President of the United States has steadily relied on his personal @realDonaldTrump Twitter account to wage a war on mainstream news media. As the Tweeter-in Chief, @realDonaldTrump redefines the rules for political social media messaging and the President’s relationship with news media. Here, in the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University, we conducted a computational text-mining and sentiment analysis of @realDonaldTrump tweets since January 20th, 2017 and uncovered some interesting patterns by the Tweeter-in-Chief in his first 100 days in office.
Before we get to @realDonaldTrump’s war on news, we need to detail some basic descriptive information about the President’s Twitter behavior. Using data collected by the Trump Twitter Archive, our analyses start with the first @realDonaldTrump tweet posted the morning of Inauguration Day (January 20, 2017) and end with the last tweet Trump posted on his 100th day as President, April 29th, 2017. In this time and excluding retweets, @realDonaldTrump tweeted 491 times, which averages to a little under 5 tweets a day – a rate far exceeding his predecessor’s use of the social media service. President Trump tweets a lot.
The first @realDonaldTrump tweet used in our analysis:
The last @realDonaldTrump tweet used in our analysis:
His favorite word to tweet is “great.” Taking out common English words such as “the,” “and,” “a,” “now,” and “today,” Figure 1 plots the most frequent words that appear in the @realDonaldTrump’s timeline. The word “great” was tweeted 86 times, doubling the second most frequent term, “fake,” which was tweeted 41 times by the President.
Figure 1: Most frequent words on @realDonaldTump’s timeline: First 100 days as President
@realDonaldTrump’s favorite pairings of words come as no surprise (Figure 2). “Fake news” was tweeted 32 times and “failing nytimes” comes in second, being tweeted 16 times. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was tweeted 11 times in his first 100 days.
Figure 2: Most frequent bi-grams on @realDonalTrump’s timeline: First 100 days as President
@realDonaldTrump’s War On News
Alicia Parlapiano and Larry Buchanan at The New York Times put together a thorough catalogue of @realDonaldTrump’s tweets in his first 100 days as President and note a constant attempt to discredit the media. By using word association techniques and sentiment analysis, we were able to dig deeper and see how @realDonaldTrump’s attack on mainstream media translates into a deliberate and targeted war on news.
Associations among frequent words used by @realDonaldTrump illustrate how much this war on news dominates his social media messaging. Figure 3 plots the network of frequent words based on their associations with each other within tweets on @realDonaldTrump’s timeline. The thicker the line, the larger the correlation. “Fake” and “news” are correlated at 0.82, “fake” and “cnn” are correlated at 0.47, and “failing” and “nytimes” are highly correlated at 0.87. We have also highlighted other associations from frequents word found in @realDonaldTrump’s tweets.
Figure 3: Associations among frequent words used on @realDonalTrump’s timeline: First 100 days as President
Trump’s war on news was the dominant topic of tweets right from the beginning of his presidency. Figure 4 shows some of the topics @realDonaldTrump tweeted about in his first 100 days as President. We filtered the tweets based on specific keywords and manually checked that every tweet was topically relevant. We created a density plot to see how the topics compared to each other and how they shifted over time. @realDonaldTrump ramped up his support of the failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare in March, eventually peaking as April arrived. While @realDonaldTrump’s message of job creation and border security remained somewhat consistent, the war on news was his highest priority.
Figure 4: Frequency of topics referenced on @realDonaldTrump’s timeline: First 100 days as President
@realDonaldTrump’s Overall Positive Sentiment?
Even with the war on news, @realDonaldTrump uses more positive words than negative words. A sentiment analysis using Bing Liu’s sentiment lexicon shows that on average, @realDonaldTrump’s tweets are slightly positive, producing a sentiment score of 0.26 (see Figure 5). As we show below, his reliance on the word “great” is mostly responsible for the overall positive sentiment score.
Figure 5: Distribution of @realDonaldTrump’s tweets by sentiment score
Corresponding with @realDonaldTrump’s war with news that peaked in the beginning of February (see Figure 4 above), his sentiment became negative during this time (see Figure 5) because of words like “fake” and “failing” were being tweeted a lot by @realDonaldTrump during this time. However, the President has been consistently positive on Twitter since the last week in February.
Figure 6: Sentiment of @realDonaldTrump tweets across time
An analysis by Danielle Kurtzleben and David Eads at NPR using VADER shows a similar trend of overall sentiment across time but does not account for the fact that most of the positive sentiment of @realDonaldTrump’s tweets comes from the word “great,” which he tweeted 86 times. The second most frequent “positive” word is “honor,” which @realDonaldTrump tweeted 15 times. Frequent negative sentiment words tweeted by the President are “fake” (41 times), “bad” (21 times), and “failing” (19 times). Figure 7 reports the most frequent positive and negative words.
Figure 7: Most frequent positive and negative words used in @realDonaldTrump’s tweets
What does all of this mean?
It is telling that although @realDonaldTrump’s inauguration day tweet is optimistic and forward thinking, he ended his first 100 days of tweets by reinforcing his continued attack on mainstream media by ascribing the label “fake” and “failing” to them. President Trump has continued the digital messaging strategy he employed as candidate Trump, which has effectively branded him as our Tweeter-in-Chief.
Perhaps more interesting is that @realDonaldTrump’s war on news tells the story of a President that is less about left and right and more about winners and losers, which is consistent with the way he campaigned and The Apprentice. This works in Trump’s favor: he has declared a war on news while proclaiming himself the unequivocal winner. And those in the mainstream media – like CNN and The New York Times – are situated as the losers. Trump uses Twitter to simultaneously reinforce his slogan “Make America Great Again” and to target his perceived enemies, meaning he is able to rally support by taking his message directly to his followers.
Twitter is now part of President Trump’s brand, offering the White House (WH) a digital megaphone for reaching the masses without gatekeepers. However, Trump has gone one step further than previous Presidents who have attempted to circumvent the WH press core. He isn’t just advocating his agenda through radio addresses, fire-side chats, or late-night TV appearances. Rather, President Trump is arguing against trusting the political news establishment. It seems that it’s not enough for him to win the debate, others must lose it.
However, the court of public opinion is a fickle thing, and over the last few decades has splintered into partisan factions. Trump supporters herald @realDonaldTrump’s attempt to pushback on the media’s coverage of his Presidency as evidence of his bulwark against a partisan press. Yet, his detractors see it as a dangerous play that can shake the foundations of our democracy. The question then becomes whether @realDonaldTrump tweets are persuasive messages that erode trust in our news media, or if they only serve to rally his base and signal that he is winning the partisan press war.
Perhaps the biggest question of all is whether this Twitter war on news makes America great again. In a time of highly contentious partisanship coupled with low trust in government, does low trust in a free press serve our democracy or serve to fracture it even more? Because @realDonaldTrump appears focused on winners and losers, it seems that there is no deal to be made with press outlets perceived to be public enemy number one.
Rather, @realDonaldTrump positions CNN and The New York Times as what’s wrong with America and his Presidency as what’s right about America. In a scenario where the press and the incumbent President are at war, the real loser is democracy. A healthy democracy requires trust in both government and a free press. If either is losing, America is losing. Can @realDonaldTrump really make America great again if we all have to pick sides between trusting our leaders and trusting our media?
Methodology and R