The Executive Office of the President during the Age of Social Media

The semester is finally coming to an end! I am rushing my way to the finish line with my thesis but I also had to write a small paper for my archives course. I know I took two courses but I got the notice and I am officially graduating! Here is a bit of what I am writing for the last paper. 

The world is changing. The way people communicate is changing. Therefore, it goes without saying that these changes have also affected the way Presidents communicate with the public. One could say it began with the invention of radio and television. These two mediums provided Presidents with a more direct line of communication with the public. No longer were they solely reliant upon the national press to be that link. Radio and television allowed modern presidents the ability to send messages to the American people without the risk of “press contamination.” This was especially beneficial during times of crisis and garnering up support for policies. For example, there was the king of radio, President Roosevelt. He depended on the radio to convey “heart-to-heart” messages to the public during the Great Depression. These communications are widely known as his fireside chats. He used them to help the public understand context of his policies (Locander 1983, p.247).  Then you have the charismatic entertainer, President Reagan. He often used television to drum up public support for federal budget cuts (Locander 1983, p.246). The local approach was also utilized by presidents. This “grassroots” approach allowed them to talk directly to the local media. For instance, President Carter used question/answer sessions with “out-of-towners.” He invited local editors and news directors to the White House because “It’s helped us to understand the attitude and concern around the nation. And I hope it’s been helpful in letting the people of different communities understand how our White House operated and what the key issues were at a particular moment” (Locander 1983, p.249). Nowadays, communication has been busted open through the popularity of social media. This paper looks at the ways social media is changing how those of the executive office communicate with the public and what advantages and dangers it proposes.

Social Media President

Social media has become a powerful tool that has many advantages and disadvantages. For instance, with its use the White House can reach wider audiences unfiltered and receive almost immediate feedback.  However, it is believed by some that it cheapens the power of the presidency “by substituting hashtag activism for serious policymaking” (Eilperin, 2015). Despite the criticisms, the rise of social media cannot be totally ignored. After all, according to Pew Research, one and seven people have moved from cable/satellite to TV subscriptions and online video streaming such as Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. Presidents going forward obviously cannot ignore this fact. They need to be able to reach as many people as possible. If you’re not watching cable/satellite TV, then how can they interrupt your local news stations by press conferences? Only makes sense then that President Obama appeared on Funny or Die with Zach Galifianakis (Funny or Die, 2014) or having his own twitter handle @potus. In fact, President Obama is the first President to use Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Vimeo, and Instagram (Daley, 2016). Overall, it is plain to see that the White House has become very digitally connected.

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Needless to say, this administration has created a ton of digital content. In addition to the Executive Office’s paper trail, the digital content is also considered to be official records that require preservation for public consumption (Presidential records act (PRA) of 1978). It begs to question then how does the government plan on preserving the administration’s digital footprint? According to Kori Schulman, the Deputy Chief Digital Officer for the White House, the National Archives and Records Administration will be handling the preservation task.

For instance, the Twitter handle @POTUS will be wiped clean and will be handed over to the incoming president on inauguration day, along with its 11 million followers. Obama’s tweets will be moved and maintained @POTUS44 where they will remain publically accessible indefinitely. The same will happen for @FLOTUS and @VP. The Twitter accounts of White House staffers will also be handed over to NARA (Daley, 2016).

In similar fashion to the Twitter handle, President Obama’s other social media accounts will cleaned out and migrated over to new handles and official Presidential handles given to the next in line. His official White House website will also be given a new URL and the photographs will be preserved by the National Archives (Daley, 2016).

Commander-in-Tweet?

If President Obama was the first to use social media, Donald Trump will overtake it! Here are the twitter usage stats for both President Obama and Trump. These are the stats for @realDonaldTrump as of December 9, 2016. He has 17, 041,362 followers and is ranked 76. He has a total of 34,102 tweets. His daily average is 83,916 followers with over 4 tweets a day (Donald J. Trump Twitter stats). In comparison the twitter stats for @POTUS as of the same date are 12,479,601 followers and the handle is ranked 139. The total tweets are 327. The @POTUS averages 28,876 followers a day with an average of 0 tweets a day (President Obama Twitter stats.).

It will be interesting to see what will happen in the upcoming months regarding how Trump will use social media. No one knows yet the plans of the incoming administration. It seems as though at the moment Trump is unable to put his phone down and Tweets very consistently. However, a major problem with Trumps excessive use to Twitter is the anger he relies behind every tweet. Take for instance the cyber bullying of Indiana union boss Chuck Jones. On December 7th 2016 Trump tweeted a retort to Mr. Jones assessment that Trump inflated the number of jobs saved at the Carrier Corporation. He claimed that 1,100 saved jobs were wrong because 350 of those jobs were already staying and that 550 were still leaving. Trump in response said “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” This is a perfect example of twitter cyberbullying. Trump’s tweet to his 17 million followers lead to Mr. Jones being harassed by his supporters who were calling leaving Mr. Jones threats. They were also calling the secretaries at the local union’s office headquarters. As stated by former senior advisor David Axelrod, “When you have the man in the most powerful office, for whom there is no target too small, that is a chilling prospect. He has the ability to destroy people in 140 characters” (Shear, 2016). It is a sad state of affairs if one cannot speak up without the fear of targeting.

It is quite evident that the changing landscape of communication and how people receive their news has altered the Executive Office’s decisions on reaching the public. From radios to Facebook and from town halls to YouTube, Presidents have had to attune themselves to the latest form of public consumption. The White House has adjusted with the times to utilize these methods in order to connect directly with the people regarding policies and the state of things. After all, one of the reasons that the White House readily accepted social media platforms was the ability to get out information and receive immediate response. However, as we have seen with Trump, the response is not always positive. Besides the outbreak against the union worker Mr. Jones, Trump has attacked beauty pageant contestants, Saturday Night Live, news media, China and more. His praise has come from himself to himself and his loyal staffers. Trump’s twitter use thus far has driven a divide further in the country and it will be interesting to see how it will be handled after inauguration.

Work Cited

Daley, J. (2016, November 09). What Happens to Obama’s Social Media Accounts When He Leaves Office? Smithsonian Mag. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-happens-obamas-social-media-accounts-when-he-leaves-office-180961053/?no-ist

Donald J. Trump Twitter stats. Retrieved December 9, 2016, from http://twittercounter.com/realDonaldTrump

Eilperin, J. (2015, May 26). Here’s how the first president of the social media age has chosen to connect with Americans. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2015/05/26/heres-how-the-first-president-of-the-social-media-age-has-chosen-to-connect-with-americans/?utm_term=.82bb164515d4

Funny Or Die (2014, March 13). Between Two ferns with Zach Galifianakis: President Barack Obama. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnW3xkHxIEQ

Locander, R. (Spring, 1983). Modern Presidential In-Office Communications: The National, Direct, and Latent Strategies. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 13(2), 242-254.

Mitchell, A., & Holcomb, J. (2016, June 15). State of the news media 2016. Retrieved December 9, 2016, from http://www.journalism.org/2016/06/15/state-of-the-news-media-2016/

President Obama Twitter stats. Retrieved December 9, 2016, from http://twittercounter.com/POTUS

Presidential records act (PRA) of 1978. (2016, October 11). Retrieved December 9, 2016, from https://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/laws/1978-act.html

Shear, M. (2016, December 08). Trump as Cyberbully in Chief? Twitter Attack on Union Boss Draws Fire. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/us/politics/donald-trump-twitter-carrier-chuck-jones.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

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