Type: Research Essays
Sample donated: Shelly Greer
Last updated: August 28, 2019
WesleyHood Cindy SkryzckiFinalPaper4 December2017 Trump’s Twitter: AnInverse Panopticon Harming Media Perception, Literacy Twitter,founded in 2006 in San Francisco, is currently rated the third most popularsocial media network in the United States and is also a widely used platforminternationally (Isaac & Ember 2016). The social media platform hasgrown to have nearly 317 million monthly users (Pew, 2017), in the 11 yearssince it’s founding. Its users vary, from members of the public tocelebrities, journalists, and politicians. The platform calls itself a “microblogging service,” where users can voice their thoughts and feelings in poststhat are 280 –formerly 140 – characters or less. The social media platformtracks trending topics, trying to keep users updated on current events.
As aresult, Twitter has become a source of breaking news and societal reactions topresent-day events. Due to Twitter’s immense popularity, the site can have ahuge impact, in multiple and profound ways.A significantaspect of Twitter’s impact on U.
S. society involves how Twitter engages theworld’s political sphere. Due to Twitter’s social media prominence, there aremany notable and significant politicians who currently utilize the social mediaservice. Of those, arguably the most prominent user is Donald Trump. Throughhis Twitter account, Trump is able to connect with members of the public in away that allows the public to feel as though he is speaking directly to them.This gives him the ability to have a huge impact on public perception of a widearray of topics. On Nov.
30, 2017Donald J. Trump tweeted: “The Dow just broke 24,000 for the first time (anotherall-time Record). If the Dems had won the Presidential Election, the Marketwould be down 50% from these levels and Consumer Confidence, which is also atan all-time high, would be!'” (@realDonaldTrump, 2017) That statement wasretweeted 21858 times and liked 98094 times. So what is the problem with any ofthat? It’s false information being fed to an audience that believes it to betrue simply because of the title of the person relaying the message.
President DonaldJ. Trump has a following of over 43 million people on the social media siteTwitter, where he often candidly tweets out information to a large group of hisfollowers. Because of the high value they place on Trump’s title, as”President” most of them do not view the messages he is circulating as false,because they have 100 percent trust that he is being truthful as is supposedlythe case in the relationship of a President and his supporters. This 100percent trust comes from the fact that they are always watching his tweets, andtherefore they become a main source for the information they are receiving. Twitter allows forits users – whether they’re politicians or just regular Joe’s – to communicatewith a selected audience through tweets that are 280 characters or less. The tweetscan contain various forms of media such as; a video, picture, link, survey,etc. Those users interact with each other by replying to tweets that otherssend out from their own pages.
Those pages are where each user is able to crafttheir own identity and their own authentic vision that they wish to portray totheir followers. Trump is doing just that. In 1977philosopher Michel Foucault wrote a book called Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, in which hedescribes how we are moving from a disciplinary society to a control society.In it, Foucault describes the workings of Panopticism and the Panopticon. Apanopticon is a type of prison where the guard is able to see all prisoneractivity from a singular location, although they do not need to do so all thetime. The main idea behind this is that the prisoners are aware of the factthat the guard is watching their every movement at any given moment and thusthey are unable to tell when they are being watched.
Panopticism’s model”establishes control by presuming the prisoners will adjust their behaviorbecause of the possibility they are being watched.” (Foucault, 200) Foucaultuses this model to describe how institutions like school, church, the army,etc. function in modern day society. This theory brings the question of how the”gaze” of few can control the actions of many. In many ways, itseems that Twitter follows a similar yet slightly different model, especiallywhen you are considering Donald J.
Trump’s usage of the social media platform.Where as the normal panopticon theory has a single watcher, Twitter is theinverse of that where several watchers follow a given person and their posts.In this case, the watchers would be Trump’s followers and supporters, with heserving as the watched. Trump’s followers create an omnipresent “gaze-like”feeling because they are constantly watching his actions, but he never knowswhen exactly. Trump uses Twitter throughout the course of the day, with absurdTweets that contain the messages he wants his followers to “watch” beingreleased at all hours.
Again, this is because he never knows when his followersare watching. Twitter is aplatform that is voluntarily being used, by Trump to tell the world what he isdoing and thinking all day in 280 character snapshots. Those 280 charactermessages seem to transport us inside his head and allow for his followers tofeel as though they are directly involved in the conversation that ishappening. The inverse panopticon model might help us to better understand theway users use Twitter to follow the President and how the President usestwitter to directly influence the views of his audience. This is inherentlybad for those who follow Trump on Twitter and rely on solely his tweets as asource of information because Trump is using Twitter for power and influencemuch in the way that “the panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory ofpower” (Foucault, 204).
Trump is using twitter as a laboratory of power, andhis followers feed into the information because of his stance and the office heholds. In addition, his followers further fall into the panopticon because theysee his tweets that favor certain media outlets over others, and then choose todistrust them because he tells them to. For example, on Nov. 29, 2017 Donald J.
Trump quoted a tweet from Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that discussed how CNNplanned to skip the White House Press Holiday Party, then he said: “Great, andwe should boycott Fake News CNN. Dealing with them is a total waste of time!”(@realDonaldTrump, 2017) In direct contrast, he then directly links neworganizations like Fox and Friends, and Fox News in tweets that he sees aspositive, and containing “real” information. Such as this tweet on Nov. 29,2017: “[email protected], we are in record territory in all things having to dowith our economy” (@realDonaldtrump, 2017) and then he cites a statistic onconsumer confidence.
This blatant bias towards certain media platforms overothers, causes his followers to adopt similar opinions because they are tobelieve that President Trump knows what he is talking about, because after all heis the President of the United States. In addition, the tweets feed falseinformation, as there is no direct link between consumer confidence being at anall new high (Patterson, 2017), for example. Trump’s tweets not only feed falseinformation, but also attack the press and cause his followers to do the same.
And Trump has many critics that say this isnegatively affecting media literacy. The president has however defended his useof social media in a series of tweets, hitting back at claims that it is notpresidential. Trump has and still does come under fierce criticism fromboth Democrats and Republicans because they view his social media usage asnegatively affecting the public’s perception of the press and other issuesrelating to the government. Trump fought back and continues to with his mostnotable account being, a set of tweets in July 2017. He tweeted: “The FAKE & FRAUDULENT NEWS MEDIA is workinghard to convince Republicans and others I should not use social media – butremember, I won.
……the 2016 election with interviews, speeches and socialmedia.
I had to beat #FakeNews, and did. We will continue to WIN!” andthen added: “My use of social media is not Presidential – it’s MODERN DAYPRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!” (@realDonaldTrump, 2017). However, we haveto take in to consideration that Trump is not the first President of the UnitedStates to use this method of bypassing the media to directly get messages outto the American people.
He’s just the first that seems to get mass amounts ofcoverage for doing so. And that, is the reason it’s affecting media literacy.Because instead of covering important stories, the press is choosing to coverthe tweets of Trump rather than real information, which in turn is causing hisfollowers to not be literate even if they wanted to be. If they wanted to getfurther information, beyond his tweets, when they try to research all they areseeing are stories about his Tweets, not actually news coverage. That’sdirectly harming media literacy. But I digress, as I stated before Trump isn’tthe first to take up this strategy.
Past leaders like Nixon and Bush. also usedmethods to bypass the press and speak directly to the American people, whichalso affected media literacy. “One method Trumpuses to bypass reporters is through Twitter…” (PBS, 2017). This is indeed thecase, but he isn’t the first to do so. Trump’s battle with the press is epic init’s magnitude and influence, but other presidents have fought with the pressfrom time to time for as long as the office has been in place in this country,according to Thomas Patterson, a Professor of Government and the Press at theHarvard Kennedy School. Mr.
Patterson recently told Boston.com, “GeorgeWashington thought he was treated unfairly in print. Even Thomas Jefferson, whopraised newspapers as the greatest tool for protecting liberty, changed coursewith some of his statements about the press once he was in office.
” Moremodern President’s have partaken in this behavior as well. And, Patterson states,”part of the reason Trump can do what he does with Twitter is because pastPresident’s like Nixon and George W. Bush did similar things.
” Bush’sadministration sought to bypass the national media and reach local media, whichhis administration found to be less hostile towards their agenda. According toPatterson, “They sent out not only releases directly to local papers, but theysent canned video stories, some of the local affiliates were carrying themuntil others in the press blew a whistle on it.” Indeed, according to The NewYork Times, about 20 federal agencies, “produced and distrusted hundreds oftelevisions news segments…” According to the Times, the reports were designedto fit smoothly into a typical local newscast, and were broadcast in citiessuch as; New York, Chicago and Dallas. During Nixon’s time in office, Early in his presidency, the administration attacked thetelevision networks and used public policy to attack the press, according toPatterson. “It was done most publically by Vice President Spiro Agnew, whocalled the networks ‘nattering nabobs of negativism.
” The Nixon administrationalso threatened to strip all of the networks of their licenses. Nixon thenbegan using other ways to directly reach the public, like throughradiobroadcasts. Nixon used the same tactic as Trump is employing, ofbelittling the press in front of the American people so that their opinions ofthe press followed his opinions.So how do we begin to fix this issue? The issue ofmedia literacy and how Twitter and other social media platforms – which havebecome one-stop shops for information – affect media literacy? At the end of theday, this isn’t about Trump’s twitter usage. Sure, it’s unconventional and itis harmful, but there is a deeper issue hiding in this country. We need to callout the real issue here — America has a major media literacy problem. While thenumbers have slightly fluctuated, a recent Reuters poll found that 45percent of the country has “hardly any” confidence in the news media. It shouldthen be no surprise that two Yale professors published a study showing that “alink between analytic thinking and media truth discernment was driven both by anegative correlation between Cognitive Reflection Test and perceptions of fakenews accuracy (among liberal voters), and a positive correlation betweenCognitive Reflection Test and perceptions of real news accuracy (amongconservative voters).
” What does that mean? In other words, those who believeless in vetting for quality news sources and critically thinking about theinformation they are taking in were more likely to believe fake news and therely solely off of one source for information – such as President Trump’stweets. In a study fromStanford, researchers evaluated students’ ability to assess information/sourcesand those conducting the study said, “the results were bleak and dismaying, athreat to democracy.” Most participants in the study were unable to tell thedifference between information that was found to be false or misleading in atweet from information from a credible and vetted news source.
Thiscould be seen as a definite polarization between political parties and theirrespective beliefs, a polarization that is affected by Trump’s messages and hisTwitter account. Studies have shown that group polarization on Twitter doesexist, especially within the realm of politics. Studies surrounding howpoliticians utilize Twitter have shown interesting interactions betweenpoliticians and their Twitter followers. Politicians have used the social mediaoutlet to spread political propaganda and gain support from their followers,including during peak moments of an election campaign. Aragon’s (2013)Barcelona study of the 2011 Spanish national election found that Twitteractivities for political candidates closely followed important events duringthe election, such as debates and Election Day. This peak in activity not onlyapplies to political candidates, but to their followers as well. A recent study of the presidential electionstudied Trump’s tweets during the Republican primaries and found that they werevocally amplified and defended by his loyal Twitter followers, who ensured thattheir candidate was always trending on Twitter and other forms of social media(Wells, Shah, Pevehouse, Yang, Pelled & Boehm, 2016).
Utilizing socialmedia during peak moments of their campaign allows politicians to garnersupport from their followers when they need it most. But, the exact causes behind Twitter’spolarization still needs to be studied and it isn’t just during election cyclesthat politicians are using this methodology and feeding into it, Trumpcontinues to take advantage of the panopticon that is Twitter by furthering thedivide between his followers and non-supporters, but issuing information thatmay not be 100 percent true, but is seen as such by his followers while thenon-supporters see through it. The above studies show that there is a direneed for an investment in media literacy education in this country, whetherthat be at the high school, collegiate, or public forum level. As ThomasJefferson said, “a well informed citizen is the best defense against tyranny.”And while that may be extreme, it’s true, and the public is left defenseless ifthey have no perception of the truth and literacy around the information theyare seeing. And while it mayseem as though most Americans don’t mind the President’s twitter usage, that’sactually not the case. Twitter may be one ofPresident Donald Trump’s favorite methods of communication, but many Americansseem to wish he would change his behavior on the platform, according to a newABC News/Washington Post poll.
About67% of Americans disapprove of the way Trump uses Twitter, according to thepoll. When asked to describe the President’s Twitter usage, about 68% foundTrump’s tweets “inappropriate,” 65% described the tweets as “insulting,” while52% called it “dangerous.” The poll came directly after Trump attacked andberated the media as being “fake news.” The ABC/Post pollalso found that 57% of Americans like Trump less the more they hear about him.At the same time, Trump’s approval rating has fallen to 36%.
While Trump’s useof Twitter may be startling to some, what we have seen is that it is nothingout of the ordinary for a President to do – in the sense that it is a way forhim to cut through the press and directly influence the opinions of hisfollowers and voters. Trump uses Twitters to influence their opinion ofdifferent news networks and also a wide array of topics, because the idea isthat the President is being truthful in every statement he makes, even if thatstatement is 280 characters or less. We’ve seen that Trump uses his twitter account as an inverse panopticonthat traps his users and followers from any sort of media truth or literacy byshrouding them in a cloud of false and biased information. The way to fix thiswould be through incorporating media literacy into the education of manyAmericans, but are we ready for that? I’m not entirely sure.