In each the lead as much as and the instant aftermath of the US presidential election, President Donald Trump made claims of voter fraud and a rigged election, utilizing all channels obtainable to him, together with Twitter. Regardless of the obvious lack of proof for these accusations, they’ve arguably influenced the beliefs of hundreds of thousands of People.
Twitter has been a main means by which the president has sought to set the agenda. Since he first took workplace, many individuals have speculated that a few of Trump’s tweets have been deployed to distract from unfavorable media protection. For instance, when the press reported on the US$25m Trump College settlement, he tweeted concerning the Hamilton play controversy. When COVID-19 did not “simply go away” however as an alternative took a stranglehold on the US, he tweeted concerning the “OBAMAGATE!” conspiracy principle.
No less than a few of these distractions appear to have labored. For instance, our earlier analysis confirmed how there was far higher public and media curiosity within the Hamilton controversy than the Trump College settlement. However the proof had been anecdotal – till now.
Our new analysis presents the primary empirical proof that Trump’s tweets systematically divert consideration away from matters which can be doubtlessly dangerous to him. Maybe much more importantly, we discovered that this diversion works and suppresses subsequent protection of doubtless dangerous information tales.
We requested two questions: is doubtlessly dangerous media protection adopted by elevated diversionary Twitter exercise by Trump? And does such diversion cut back subsequent media protection of that subject?
To check the hypotheses, we targeted on the content material of the New York Instances (NYT) and ABC World Information Tonight (ABC) headlines and the entire roughly 5,000 Trump tweets throughout his first two years in workplace. We selected the Mueller investigation into potential collusion with Russia because the dangerous subject. We then chosen a set of key phrases – “jobs”, “China” and “immigration” – that we assumed can be Trump’s go-to matters on the time, primarily based on a scientific content material evaluation of his marketing campaign supplies and main speaking factors.
The workforce hypothesised that the extra the NYT and ABC reported on the Mueller investigation, the extra Trump’s tweets would point out jobs, China and immigration, which – if the diversion have been profitable – would then be adopted by much less protection of the Mueller investigation by NYT and ABC the next day. The logic is illustrated within the graphic beneath.
Our analyses supplied robust proof that Trump’s tweets have been distracting the media. For instance, we discovered that every ABC headline referring to the Mueller investigation was related to 0.2 extra mentions of one of many key phrases in Trump’s tweets. In flip, every extra point out of one of many key phrases in a Trump tweet was related to 0.four fewer occurrences of the Mueller investigation than anticipated within the following day’s NYT.
To discover the robustness of those outcomes, we additionally performed an expanded evaluation that thought-about the president’s whole Twitter vocabulary as a possible supply of diversion. This evaluation corroborated our findings: “jobs” and “China” have been nonetheless Trump’s prime picks, however “tax”, “crime” and “North Korea” additionally featured prominently as diversionary matters.
We additionally performed a battery of checks to rule out various explanations and strengthen our claims of causal relationships between: a) the Mueller/Russia protection and Trump’s diversionary tweets, and b) his tweets and the following lower in Mueller/Russia protection.
For instance, once we thought-about “placebo matters”, equivalent to Brexit, no diversion was noticed. These placebo matters offered no political menace to Trump and have been chosen to span quite a lot of unrelated domains, together with soccer and gardening. In different phrases, solely media experiences on Mueller/Russia – however not experiences on placebo matters – resulted in a rise in diversionary Trump tweets.
It might be the case that the media isn’t conscious of the affect that Trump’s tweeting has on them. The NYT, for instance, has explicitly warned concerning the impression of Trump’s presidency on journalistic requirements. However the truth that suppression happens (when essential tales will not be adopted up after Trump’s diversionary tweets) nonetheless implies that essential editorial choices could also be influenced by components referring to Trump’s tweets. This will properly occur with out the editors’ intention – or certainly in opposition to their said insurance policies.
Strategic diversion isn’t a brand new political software. It was the subject of the 1997 movie “Wag the Canine”, which noticed commentators draw parallels to then President Invoice Clinton’s dealing with of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The previous adviser to Boris Johnson, Lynton Crosby, famously used a useless cat analogy to explain the technique. Nevertheless, social media has allowed political leaders extra direct and instant entry to their constituents and the media. Our evaluation reveals that they will use this pathway successfully to divert.
Fox Information, Donald Trump’s cheerleaders and the journalists who challenged his narrative
Though Trump did not be re-elected, he continues to make use of Twitter prolifically (regardless of a few of his tweets being taken down for being deceptive). Because the attain of social media platforms continues to develop, different current and future leaders might have interaction in related kinds of behaviour in an try to steer the media narrative.
Maybe our paper can function a reminder to the media that its position in a democracy is to focus on the matters most essential to their audiences and to serve the general public curiosity. This generally means ignoring the crimson herrings laid out on Twitter. Fortunately, some journalists, students and commentators have already labored this out.
Ullrich Ecker receives funding from the Australian Analysis Council.
Michael Jetter is affiliated with the IZA and CESifo.
Stephan Lewandowsky receives funding from the Australian Analysis Council, ESRC (via CREST), UKRI (via REPHRAIN), and Jigsaw.