FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – President Donald Trump arguably utilized social media more effectively than any other politician in United States history, and now researchers at Colorado State University have uncovered a code which may explain why. Journalism and Media Communication Assistant Professor Michael Humphrey analyzed every tweet Trump sent for more than four years and discovered the outgoing president’s overall theme and tone.
“We tend to think in stories. We tend to identify ourselves through stories. Religions start with stories, and so do political movements,” Humphrey told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “He’s been telling a story on Twitter that I could track.”
At the base of Trump’s forcefully-ended tenure on Twitter was a theme of protection. According to Humphrey, Trump pushed a narrative on social media that made his time in The White House appear to be an act of protecting Americans from an onslaught of attackers.
“(Trump’s theme was) the establishment or institutions are keeping me from protecting you from invaders,” Humphrey said.
Throughout Trump’s term the narrative of “invaders” varied. Examples included Iran, North Korea, China, ANTIFA, illegal immigrants, COVID-19 coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter movement, members of his own political party and more.
Establishments Trump accused of preventing his protection included Congress, social media companies, American news outlets, the NFL and more.
“The idea that he was basset by enemies at all sides was consistent all the way through the last day he was tweeting,” Humphrey said.
In just more than four years Humphrey analyzed more than 25,000 tweets with the help of a linguistic software. The technology used psychometrics to comb through the president’s tweets at all hours of the day.
“The more he tweeted the better, for me,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey color coded tweets which stood out. In doing so he was able to identify tweets where Trump used positive and negative emotional words to drive home his point. While Humphrey found negativity and attacks performed better through retweets and likes, his analytics showed Trump used positive language more frequently than negative.
“He uses positive emotion words a lot more than the average tweeter. Great, happy, tremendous,” Humphrey said. “When you use words like horrible, wrong and sad, those come across as negative emotion words. The negative language worked for him.”
While some of the positive language used by Trump may have been self-serving or deceiving, it still fit in the overall theme Trump used.
“Trump is an innately storytelling animal,” Humphrey said. “That, I think, explains why he was so effective with such a large part of the community.”
Humphrey also tracked more nearly 20 other twitter accounts to compare his data. Tracked accounts away from the president’s included journalists, other politicians, activists and news media outlets.
Humphrey said the collection phase of his research ended when Twitter abruptly shut down Trump’s Twitter account, accusing him of using the private platform to incite violence. Now, his studies will be reviewed by peers, surveyed more and later published.
Until then Humphrey said he hoped Americans would revisit Trump’s Twitter tenure, comprehend what was done so effectively and use it to start a discussion on how privately operated platforms are exploited by those in elected office.
“Social media is an infant in terms of human history. We are still learning how to act in it and how to take it,” Humphrey said. “What he did was a big-big deal. We need to understand what he did and why it worked.”