Trump’s Twitter Signature: A 12-Year Timeline

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Donald Trump was permanently banned from Twitter on Jan. 8, bringing to an end to perhaps the world’s most prolific and influential Twitter account. While Twitter has deleted all of his tweets, the Trump Twitter Archive has preserved the 56,571 utterances sent by @realDonaldTrump since his first one on May 4, 2009. What can we learn about how Trump used his account over the years?

The timeline below shows the total number of tweets he sent each week since he joined. Trump didn’t begin tweeting heavily until August 2011 and really embraced it starting in September 2012 as he weighed in on that year’s presidential election. Beginning in October 2015, he steadily decreased his Twitter use week over week through the election, at which point he began to steadily ramp up his use. But from the 2020 election through his ban, he tweeted less and less. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Did Trump primarily tweet his own thoughts or amplify those of others? Zooming in on the August 2011-to-present period, the timeline below shows the percentage of his tweets that were retweets. It was not until January 2016 that he began noticeably retweeting others and it was not until the start of 2019 that he began relying ever more heavily on retweets. Yet, starting in July 2020, amid the ongoing George Floyd protests, he began turning back to his own statements. In all, 10,170 (18%) of his tweets were retweets.

His increasing reliance on retweets coincides with a sharp decrease in the percentage of his tweets that exclude retweets (this includes replies and mentioning other accounts), dropping from around 80%-90% of his tweets to around 30% by mid-2016. Only in early 2019 did he begin once again mentioning other users, increasing through the end of 2019 and decreasing again from July 2020 onward. It appears the Floyd protests marked a turning point in which he shifted from largely amplifying the thoughts of others toward mostly putting forth his own commentaries. In all, 58% of his tweets have mentioned another user.

Since mid-2019 he has steadily increased the percentage of capitalized letters in his tweets, from 8% a week to 12%, but has decreased his use of capitalized letters in the weeks since the election. In contrast, since the start of 2019 he has steadily reduced his use of exclamation points, from as much as 70% of his weekly tweets to around 40%, but then steadily increased their use in the weeks since the election.

Just over 28% of Trump’s tweets contained either an image or video or a link to an external website. The most common sites he linked to were pscp.tv, facebook.com, donaldjtrump.com, breitbart.com, whitehouse.gov, winred.com, instagram.com, youtube.com, foxnews.com, thegreggjarrett.com, dailycaller.com, washingtonexaminer.com, nypost.com and thehill.com.

How often does Trump refer to himself? The timeline below shows the percentage of his tweets that mentioned “I,” “me,” or “Trump” versus “we,” “our,” or “ours.” From late 2012 to early 2016 he tended to spend four times as many tweets on himself. As his campaign accelerated during 2016, he sharply decreased his mentions of himself and steadily increased his references to “we” and “our” and “ours.” By his election he was using the two sets of terms equally, but began decreasing use of both categories in mid-2019.

What about the tone of his tweets? The timeline below shows the average weekly tone of his tweets using an eight-week rolling average of the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) tone dictionary. Tone is computed by counting the percentage of his words that were deemed “negative” (top Trump words include “fake” and “bad”) and subtracting them from the percentage of words deemed “positive” (top Trump words include “great” and “thank”). Higher weekly scores indicate there were more positive words than negative words that week.

The tone of Trump’s tweets begins a steady negative slide in late May 2015 just before he formally announced his candidacy and reached a bottom in January 2020. As the pandemic raged, the tone of his tweets became sharply more positive as he projected an optimistic and upbeat message. In April he shifted his tone towards greater negativity and then rebounded in August heading into the election, then turned hard negative in the weeks after the election.

How much did Trump’s tweets resonate with the media? The timeline below shows the number of online news articles per day that linked to one of his tweets from April 20, 2016 through present, as monitored by the GDELT Project. Despite tweeting more than ever, media interest in his tweets had been on a steady decline leading up to the 2020 election. His claims of a stolen election appear to have reversed this decline, drawing widespread coverage.

For Trump himself, “television became the medium through which he could watch the effects of his tweets,” the New York Times reported, while for voters themselves, 72% heard about his tweets through television coverage. So how much coverage did his tweets receive? Using data from the Internet Archive Television News Archive, the heatmap below shows the seconds of airtime each hour from Jan. 1, 2020 through present across BBC News London, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News in which the text “@realDonaldTrump” was visible somewhere on-screen.

Since the start of last year, BBC showed his tweets over more than five hours of airtime, with CNN, MSNBC Fox News each devoting around 14.7 hours to his tweets. Even banishment from Twitter hasn’t eliminated coverage of his tweets. In the days since the ban his Twitter handle is still shown on air for 100-200 seconds a day across the four channels, a decrease of around half of his pre-ban levels. 

In the end, the graphs above show how celebrity Trump evolved into candidate Trump into President Trump and how his use of the platform changed from touting himself to amplifying the views of others, his focus on negativity and the media’s fixation on his every word.

RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.





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