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Russian trolls, fake news & ego boosts for retweets — NYT study decodes Trump’s Twitter

According to the NYT study, Trump ‘has retweeted at least 145 unverified accounts that have pushed conspiracy or fringe content’.

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New Delhi: Pay him a compliment, and US President Donald Trump will retweet you, even if you are clearly running a fake account under a Hollywood star’s photo.

The New York Times (NYT) has conducted an analysis of each of the over 11,000 tweets posted by Trump — the first US President with such a deep penchant for social media — since he assumed office in January 2017, and outlined some recurring themes that animate his posts.

These include Russian trolls, fake news, and retweets for an ego boost. Another theme, according to the NYT, is scant concern for the veracity of the information being peddled.

“There is little evidence that Mr Trump harbors concerns about promoting accounts that traffic in fake or inflammatory material,” the report claims.

According to the NYT, the analysis “offers the most comprehensive view yet of a virtual world in which the president spends significant time mingling with extremists, impostors and spies”.

“With the arrival of Mr Trump in the Oval Office, Twitter managed to connect the ultimate seat of power to the darkest corners of the web for the first time,” the report states.

Trump’s connection with unverified accounts

The NYT found that Trump “has retweeted at least 145 unverified accounts that have pushed conspiracy or fringe content, including more than two dozen that have since been suspended by Twitter”.

For instance, in July, Trump retweeted a “post from an unverified account that accused Obama supporters of orchestrating protests to sabotage Mr Trump’s presidency”. “The message was also retweeted by a handful of Russian-controlled troll accounts,” the report adds.

Also read: As Trump goes back on commitments, nations wonder if US is still a reliable ally

Best way to reach Trump is an ‘appeal to his ego’

One of the most interesting insights provided by the analysis is Trump’s propensity to retweet posts that appeal to his ego.

“Trolls and fringe elements quickly figured out that the best way to reach Mr. Trump is to appeal to his ego,” the report states.

It quotes an example from 2018 when an anonymous account with a profile photo of Hollywood actor Kurt Russell tagged Trump in a tweet, saying “You’re the greatest President of my lifetime, Sir.”

“It was not really Mr Russell, but Mr Trump retweeted it with a “Thank you!” helping the account add 2,900 followers that day, before Twitter eventually suspended it,” NYT wrote.

Trump retweeting violence

In 2017, the analysis shows, Trump retweeted three videos “purportedly showing Muslims committing acts of violence”. “Each of the videos was either highly misleading or was posted with a false description,” the report adds.

“The content he chooses to retweet is similar to his own: Mostly partisan attacks and praise for himself, with occasional inflammatory material mixed in,” it says.

Trump’s feed also “regularly contains” tweets from one of his sons, Donald Trump Junior, who “follows and retweets alt-right figures like Stefan Molyneux, a Canadian who pushes ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theories and has promoted white nationalists on his YouTube channel”.

Also read: Trump and Pence skipping Bangkok summit has Asia questioning US strategy


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