Twitter and Trump: A truly destructive relationship

Here you can read a German version of this article.

There probably is no other company in the world that has maneuvered itself into such a complicated and even pitiful position such as Twitter.

As the prime communication channel for infamously impulsive and notoriously conflict-ready U.S. President Donald Trump, Twitter’s platform is playing a critical role in the various minor and major squabbles which Trump is engaging in around the clock. In fact, Twitter’s platform is enabling these squabbles in an unique way, as the service’s unfiltered real-time character, brevity, viral dynamics and emotional user behavior amplifies any seemingly trivial 140 character message thousandfold, and – with helpful participation of click and outrage-driven media as well as tweeting anti-Trump activists – turning it into “world news”.

It’s hard to exactly pin down what would have happened in a world without Twitter (and without a service exactly like Twitter). But the world would look different for sure. It’s speculative but maybe Trump wouldn’t even be President. Presumably that’s the type of reasoning which led the former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to launch a crowdfunding campaign intended to raise enough money to buy a majority stake in Twitter – in order to subsequently being able to ban Donald Trump from the service.

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Whether she really believes in that this possible, or whether she uses the campaign mostly to publicly put pressure on Twitter (to ban Trump?) aside – she won’t get far. Because as uncomfortable as Twitter’s management might be to admit this: Donald Trump is hugely valuable for the service. A recent analysis by the financial firm Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. estimated that without its most prolific user, Twitter’s current market value of about $11.7 billion would be reduced by $2 billion – almost a fifth of its value.

Twitter has been struggling for many years, suffering from a chronical absence of user growth, constant losses and a general lack of direction and purpose. As unfortunate as it might be, but for a company in such a situation, having the U.S President using his personal account to conduct national and global “politics” must be considered its single biggest asset.

That of course is astonishing since Twitter’s cultural DNA doesn’t match at all to what Trump stands for. It’s in fact the exact opposite. Shaped by its geographical location in America’s possibly most liberal city, its outspoken, thoughtful and humanistic CEO Jack Dorsey, and by its presumably largely left-leaning, coastal and globalist workforce, Twitter represents many values and ideas which Trump’s supporters specifically have been voting against. And yet it has turned into the prime vehicle for the promotion of the opposite.

Dorsey has been forced to invent a twisted rhetorical narrative to justify the obvious moral conflict that’s plaguing the company and its staff. But from an outside perspective, it is hard not to pitty Twitter for the position it has ended up in: Its platform is being facilitated for furthering political and societal division and even for gambling with global peace, considering Trump’s Twitter threats against North Korea. Twitter’s CEO and team might sincerely be driven by the desire to contribute to a better world, but nevertheless they have been made complicit in doing the opposite. And due to the poor economic performance of the company, this is also the only option Twitter has right now to avoid becoming a penny stock. Trump needs Twitter, and Twitter needs Trump. It’s truly a destructive relationship.

P.S. As described here, the whole U.S. media industry is benefiting from Trump. The media landscape’s mechanisms in the attention economy have become absolutely disastrous.

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