Want to influence Trump’s foreign policy? Just reply to his tweets.


Earlier this month, The New York Times reported what many Americans probably already assumed: President Trump “tends to scroll through the replies to his tweets, and will often pick up what he has seen there.”

In May, Politico reported that, in a meeting with lawmakers about his Syria strategy, President Trump invited his adviser Dan Scavino to testify to the support that Trump’s withdrawal plan had garnered online. “Tell them how popular my plan is,” Trump reportedly asked the man responsible for managing the president’s social media presence.

Combined, these reports reveal the heavy weight the president places on the opinion of Twitter, and specifically the replies. “He is particularly receptive to tweets that reinforce his own views,” according to The Times’ story. Needless to say, this reliance on social media feedback to shape foreign policy outcomes is ill-advised and reckless. But what’s more important is that this behavior exposes — and almost surely has already exposed — the U.S. president to manipulation by foreign governments.

Last year, my colleague Ethan Fecht and I published a study of a Russian disinformation campaign on Twitter, which showed that Moscow attempted to influence American policy on Syria by creating a slew of Twitter accounts masquerading as Americans. Specifically, they spent the week between the April 7, 2018 chemical attack in Douma, Syria and the April 13 U.S. retaliatory strike attempting to dissuade such a strike by changing the social media discussion.

We found that the single most common tactic used by these “trolls” was to reply to the president’s tweets while impersonating an American Trump supporter; they framed themselves as only disagreeing with him on this single policy issue. At the time of our research, we concluded that these Russian agents were attempting to influence other social media users — not the president himself — in order to manipulate the broader conversation, and perhaps indirectly influence the president’s reasoning on Syrian intervention.

However, this new reporting on just how much Trump relies on Twitter to gauge public opinion strongly suggests that these operations may have directly influenced the president in the past. Moreover, it provides good reason for the Kremlin to believe that it should engage in its social media disinformation efforts more aggressively. If the president has been actively monitoring the social media responses to his policy proposals, he almost certainly encountered Kremlin-controlled “trolls” spreading Moscow’s viewpoint on policies, rather than only …read more


Source:: Politics – The Week

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