Antionette Kerr: President’s Twitter feed proves hard to follow
A few weeks ago, our 44th president made a bold and highly critical move — he reopened his very own Twitter account.
While seated at his desk in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama was photographed sending out his first tweet. At 11:38 a.m. May 18, the leader of the free world wrote, “Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really! Six years in, they’re finally giving me my own account.”
Minutes later he was bombarded with replies, retweets and favorites. The responses ranged from serious political questions to statements like “how bout gas prices.” That was to be expected, but the announcement also sparked a string of insults and slurs calling the president names like “monkey.”
According to The New York Times article “Obama’s Twitter Debut, @POTUS, Attracts Hate-Filled Posts,” one hateful tweet even showed a picture of the president being hanged with a noose. One example: “#arrestobama #treason we need ‘ROPE FOR CHANGE.’”
And while the White House already had an account in which staffers posted pictures of the president, vice president and their families doing typical presidential things like strolling to Air Force One and visiting the U.S. military, some of us still wonder why days before Memorial Day the lame-duck president took the move of reactivating what can be an ugly “Twitter” verse.
What could Mr. President be hoping to accomplish through this form of social media?
Needless to say, I rushed to follow the president on Twitter. After all, I’ve been following Michelle Obama for years. She has been tweeting actively since 2011 (I only recently noticed the account is run by Organizing for Action staff and tweets directly from the First Lady are signed “mo”).
My following of the POTUS was short-lived. There is plenty to debate and of which to be critical; that doesn’t bother me. In fact, I frequent debates from different political perspectives via 24-hour news shows. But I have a low tolerance for the swarm of slurs hurled at the POTUS account, and I couldn’t stomach those nasty insults showing up in my Twitter feed. So with great sadness, I hit the button to “unfollow” the president within 24 hours.
As a proponent of social media, I think USA Today writer David Jackson said it best: “Sometimes it’s the ‘anti-social media.’” We’ve seen all sorts of mean-spiritedness on Twitter for years trending with celebrities.
Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel helped bring this problem to light with his “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.” It sheds light on how people hide behind social media to insult celebrities. I would give a few examples, but most are too crude to repeat for a family-friendly publication.
But Twitter hate is not limited to celebrities and politicians. Even those with very little have been blasted on Twitter as highlighted by a PSA from Raising the Roof, a Canadian-based advocacy group. They invited people who are dealing with homelessness to read tweets on camera. One gentleman who had been homeless for over 40 years read an actual tweet: “Maybe if homeless people took care of themselves, looked pretty, we would want to help them. I don’t help yellow teeth.”
It was shocking to see what people are writing on Twitter. Raising the Roof plans to share a similar PSA with youths reading tweets they received from bullies.
That is why I disagree with journalists who try to represent this Twitter activity as growing discontent with the first African-American president. Despite the overwhelming number of racial incidents, Obama’s staff says they believe these rants are coming from the fringe.
“The potential for anonymity allows people to say offensive, horrible things on Twitter that they would never say anywhere else, but we’re talking about a tiny fraction of the community,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s former senior adviser. And while this “small majority” can’t really be held responsible for tweets that include profanity and racial slurs, they now have a presidential platform.
The White House insists the president will be responsible for the tweets, but in this case, I not so secretly hope he becomes too busy to pay attention to the hateful messages. Some critics have noticed while his account shows the identifying marker of a blue check that indicates it is a genuine account for POTUS, it is missing “My tweets are my own,” which is the standard acknowledgment by celebrities, politicians and random people who feel special enough to need such a declaration. Perhaps the president isn’t being affected by the ugly and potentially dangerous comments.
I have come to view the land of Twitter as a virtual war zone, and I wonder how beneficial it is for the president to engage us in such a battle. Twitter has turned into a place where radicals flock to offend the nation by hiding behind free speech, fake accounts and bogus hashtags. As painful as it is to watch, over 633,000 are still following the POTUS. It makes me wonder why 140 characters of marketing on Twitter is worth the damage to this administration?
Antionette Kerr is a syndicated writer and author of “Just Sayin’: Conversations My Mother Would Never Let Me Have at a Southern Dinner Table.” You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.