Numbers Show How Trump's Tweets Drive the News Cycle

Numbers Show How Trump's Tweets Drive the News Cycle
AP Photo/J. David Ake
Numbers Show How Trump's Tweets Drive the News Cycle
AP Photo/J. David Ake
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Donald Trump pioneered the modern “Twitter presidency,” in which everything from policy announcements to personal musings of the moment are published through his @realDonaldTrump account. How have the world’s media covered a president who favors spur-of-the-moment tweets over scripted press conferences?

Since April 20, 2016, the GDELT Project has tracked all of the tweets linked to by online news media worldwide in 65 languages. Over that time, GDELT has tracked 868,539 articles that linked to a Donald Trump tweet. Of the president’s roughly 44,200 tweets to date, 13,539 (31%) have appeared in the news, reinforcing just how much his Twitter account helps to drive global journalism.

The timeline below shows a seven-day rolling average of the number of online news articles worldwide each day that linked to one of Trump’s tweets. (For a larger view, click on the chart.)

From his election to his inauguration, Trump’s Twitter account became ever more central to coverage in the world’s news media as journalists looked for every insight into his policy priorities come January.

What’s interesting, however, is that once Trump took office, coverage of his tweets fell precipitously the first two months and did not recover fully again until June 2017. One possible explanation is that reporters relied more on press conferences, daily briefings by the White House spokesman, and other traditional press mechanisms of the presidency.

The regular interval of the vertical surges shows just how frequently Trump’s tweets cause a media firestorm. The regularity of these surges suggests they may serve directly or indirectly as a way for Trump to maintain his grasp on media coverage.

Trump’s most popular tweet of all time in terms of media coverage from 2016 to 2019 was his resurfaced 2012 statement about global warming, followed by his July 2018 warning to Iran, his March 2017 “wires tapped” tweet, his November 2016 illegal voting claim and his January 2018 “nuclear button” boast.

Media coverage of Trump’s tweets seems to have declined at the start of this year, right around the time Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her cohort of left-leaning Democratic lawmakers took office, suggesting that their own heavy social media usage may be starving Trump of some of his media attention. Bolstering this possibility is the fact that @AOC was the 22nd-most-cited Twitter account in the news in the 2016-2019 period, despite the freshman congresswoman being in office for less than nine months.

Trump’s was the most-cited personal Twitter account in the news, followed by Kensington Palace, Elon Musk, Chrissy Teigen and Hillary Clinton. Interestingly, the official @POTUS account ranked No. 588, showing that it is Trump’s personal account that drives the news cycle.

In the end, the numbers above remind us just how central Twitter has become to the political discourse and just how much a single tweet by a social-savvy politician can drive the media’s news cycle.

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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