Trump’s tweets are controversial to distract the public from potentially damaging issues to his reputation

Trump's tweets are controversial to distract the public from potentially damaging issues for his reputation

According to a recent study published in Nature Communications , led by the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, two hypotheses have been tested in relation to Donald Trump’s controversial use of Twitter.

The study contends that it provides the first evidence-based analysis to show that the former US president’s Twitter account is routinely used to divert attention from potentially damaging topics to his reputation, in turn suppressing negative coverage of related media .

Controversial to avoid other controversies

President Trump is one of the most prolific users among world leaders. Since the start of his candidacy in 2015, approximately 30,000 tweets have been sent from Trump’s account.

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According to the study’s lead author, Stephan Lewandowsky, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Bristol:

Our analysis presents empirical evidence consistent with the theory that whenever the media reports something threatening or politically uncomfortable for President Trump, his account increasingly tweets on unrelated topics that represent his political strengths. This systematic diversion of attention from a potentially damaging topic was shown to significantly reduce negative media coverage the next day. It is unclear if President Trump, or whoever is running his Twitter account, engages in such tactics intentionally or if it is mere intuition.

The study focused on Trump’s first two years in office, looking at Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential election, as this was politically detrimental to the president. The team analyzed content related to Russia and the Mueller investigation in two of the most politically neutral media outlets in the country, the New York Times (NYT) and ABC World News Tonight (ABC).

The team also selected a set of keywords that were considered to play on Trump’s preferred themes at the time, which were presumably likely to appear in distracting tweets. Keywords related to ‘jobs’, ‘China’ and ‘immigration’; themes that represent the presumed political strengths of the president .

In support of their hypotheses, the team found that every five additional ABC headlines related to the Mueller investigation were associated with one more mention of a keyword in Trump’s tweets. In turn, two additional mentions of one of the keywords in a Trump tweet were associated with roughly one less mention of the Mueller investigation in the New York Times the following day .

The analysis identified nearly 90 word pairs that were more likely to appear in tweets when Russia-Mueller coverage increased, and that suppressed media coverage the next day. Those pairs of words largely represent the president’s political strengths, again focusing in particular on the economy.

Such a pattern did not emerge with placebo themes that posed no threat to the president – for example, Brexit or other non-political issues like soccer or gardening .

Of course, this analysis could be tested with the rest of the politicians. Perhaps that would discover that everyone tends to do something similar, which, in turn, would reduce partisanship, which is our real problem: