A photo illustration shows the suspended Twitter account of US President Donald Trump on a smartphone at the White House briefing room.—Reuters
A photo illustration shows the suspended Twitter account of US President Donald Trump on a smartphone at the White House briefing room.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: @realDonaldTrump, the Twitter feed that grew from the random musings of a reality TV star into the cudgel of an American president, has died. It was not quite 12 years old.

The provocative handle was given birth by a New York real estate tycoon who used it to help him become the 45th US president. It began with a May 4, 2009, tweet promoting Donald Trump’s upcoming appearance on David Letterman’s show.

It died more than 57,000 tweets later, with Trump using some of his final postings on the powerful platform to commiserate with a pro-Trump mob that besieged the halls of Congress in a deadly assault as lawmakers were set to certify his defeat.

The account met its demise when Twitter announced on Friday it was pulling the plug permanently on @realDonaldTrump, citing concern that Trump would use it for further incitement of violence. Trump retorted that he’d be “building out our own platform in the near future. We will not be SILENCED!” Trump, a novice politician but seasoned salesman, realised the power of social media in ways that few other politicians did. And he wielded it with never-before-seen power to diminish his opponents, shape elections and mold reality at least in the eyes of his supporters.

The US president deleted 1,166 tweets, had 471 tweets flagged by Twitter for misinformation

Early on, @realDonaldTrump seemed innocent enough. Its owner, who had prolific experience in marketing casinos, real estate and even Oreos, used the platform mostly to promote his books, media appearances and give friendly plugs to friends.

But as Trump began seriously toying with a White House run, it became a tool to scorch opponents and give shape to his nationalist, America First philosophy.

He deployed its venom equally, whether insulting celebrity enemies (Rosie ODonnell was crude, rude, obnoxious and dumb) or or using xenophobia to malign a country (Britain is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem).

Peter Costanzo, then an online marketing director for the publishing company putting out Trumps book, Think Like a Champion, helped bring Trump to the platform.

Twitter was still in its infancy at the time. But Costanzo, who later came to work for The Associated Press, saw the then-140-character-per-message platform as a new tool that the real estate mogul could use to boost sales and reach a broader audience.

Costanzo was given seven minutes to make his pitch to Trump Not five minutes, not 10, he recalled in a 2016 interview. Trump liked what he heard. I said, Lets call you @realDonaldTrump youre the real Donald Trump, recalled Costanzo. He thought about it for a minute and said: I like it. Lets do it.

Other than Trumps family, no one seemed off limits from his Twitter wrath. Trump attacked Senate Republ­icans, Senate Democrats, 2016 political rivals, current administration staffers, former administration staffers, the Republican Party and cable networks.

@realDonaldTrump was prolific: On days when its owner was particularly agitated, such as in the midst of impeachment proceedings, it pushed out more than 100 tweets.

In its most popular tweet, on Oct 2, 2020, @realDonaldTrump announced that Trump and first lady Melania Trump had contracted the coronavirus. The post got 1.8 million likes and nearly 400,000 retweets, according to Factba.se., which tracks the presidents social media habits and commentary.

The account was used to announce firings. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lear­ned of his ouster in a tweet.

The account threatened adversaries in the most colourful terms. Before Trump fell in love with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un through secretly exchanged letters, Trump used Twitter to dub him rocket man and vowed to respond with fire and fury if the authoritarian dared attack the United States.

@realDonaldTrump frequently spread misleading, false and malicious assertions, such as the baseless ideas that protesters at Justice Brett Kavanaughs confirmation hearings were paid by the liberal philanthropist George Soros and that November’s election was beset by voter fraud.

Trump often tweeted well past midnight and before dawn, a cathartic outlet for grievances (Witch hunt! Crooked Hillary, Russia, Russia, Russia, FAKE NEWS, and so on.) For the most part, @realDonaldTrump and its 280-character posts effectively allowed Trump to work around the Washington media establishment and amplify the message of allies.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2021

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