Monday morning, this happened on Twitter.
Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.
— President Obama (@POTUS) May 18, 2015
Yes, at long last, the United States has a president on Twitter. Or we do again. Sort of.
See, there was already a @BarackObama account, but that's being run by Obama's campaign spin-off, Organizing for America. And there's also a separate @WhiteHouse account, but that's being run by the White House communications team. It's complicated. Here, let The Washington Post's Philip Bump explain it to you. The point is, other Twitter accounts associated with Barack Obama weren't authentically Barack Obama. This new one won't be either. In fact, this was all a big mistake.
Twitter, once conceived as an easy means for friends in small networks to exchange SMS messages with one another, has now become a global conveyor belt of never-ending, up-to-the-minute hot garbage, a fate that was sealed the moment I joined Twitter in March of 2008. As near as I can tell, the White House hasn't offered a pat reason for making the president join Twitter at this new account, @POTUS. But I'm sure they feel that this will allow the president to have a "personal connection on social media," which he can use to "bypass the gatekeepers" and speak "directly and sincerely to America." These are all the same reasons that any #brand joins Twitter. It's also the premier venue for #BENGHAZI acrostics.
There are a lot of people out there who have good advice on how to use Twitter in an advantageous way to expand your social media reach and to connect with other users far and wide. I'll spare the president a lengthy discursion on Twitter optimization and distill the best advice I have down to two discrete strategies:
1. Never tweet.
2. Delete your account.
And that's it. If you're wondering what to do with Twitter -- if you have even a shadow of a doubt on what to do -- your best course of action is always to never tweet and then to delete your account. In other words, the thing that President Obama should do now is the one thing that we never, ever let any president do, even though we should let them because it is almost always the best course of action for their mental health and well-being: quit while he is ahead.
Having the president of the United States on Twitter is a really bad idea. Just think about the high potential for gaffes and mayhem. Twitter is where your anodyne joke about the weather dies on a bonfire of somebody being offended. It's where you're no better than every other clown who can string 140 characters together. It's where thirsty randos (Sen. Chuck Schumer) slide into your mentions, and where you accidentally send that private DM out to the general public.
For a president, Twitter is just one more avenue in which your every move will become politicized (which is already happening) and where racist trolls lurk around every corner. (Speaking of, think about all the new work the Secret Service is going to have.) Now that Obama is on Twitter, you can rest assured that at least one media critic will produce the next "Obama's found a new way to bypass the press" article, and at least one dimwit pundit will incorporate it into the next round of Green Lantern mythologizing.
It's also completely unnecessary for a president to be on Twitter, because there is a whole media apparatus already assembled that's ready to broadcast any stray utterance to the masses. Barack Obama could walk into the White House Press Room; say, "Hey, guys, check out this delicious avocado toast I made"; and by nightfall it would be translated into three Politico items, broadcast on every cable news channel, mined for at least two think pieces, and adapted as a metaphor for Maureen Dowd to beat to death over the next four years.
Anyone who thinks that this new outlet is going to be a venue for the president's unvarnished, sincere opinion needs to get his head examined. And yes, that cute little exchange between Obama and former President Bill Clinton was absolutely a tidy bit of Oval Office kayfabe. Anything that gets posted to the @POTUS account will be vetted within an inch of its life, and anything remotely interesting will be stripped out and watered down.
I can basically provide you with a complete taxonomy of everyone who will interact with this account.
1. Reporters, who will just RT everything that @POTUS tweets.
3. Racist trolls.
4. Weird Twitter.
5. Obama fans who will respond to everything with "praise hands" emoji.
6. Pretentious crap sacks who start every tweet with the word "actually."
7. Those idiots who get you into Twitter canoes seven users deep.
8. Chrissy Teigen.
Of these, only Chrissy Teigen makes this social media format worthwhile, especially if she's trolling Nancy Grace.
And that's the best-case scenario. The thing about Twitter is that it sometimes tends to bring out the worst in us -- it doesn't take much to get users spoiling for an undignified fight. Obama's drama-avoidance tendencies being what they are, this is perhaps not a near-term problem. But sooner or later, that combination of thin skin and egomania that is so de rigueur in our political class is going to get the better of some president. (Probably President Ted Cruz. You just know that guy rises to the bait like a grouper with a death wish.)
Those are basically the two directions a presidential Twitter account can go: pure-beige, pablum secretions or ignoble, quick-fire, spit-spat sessions.
According to reports, the @POTUS Twitter account is built to be a legacy account, passed from president to president as the old one leaves and the newly elected chief executive arrives. It wasn't long ago that President Obama fought the good fight to end deficit-ceiling hostage-taking, recognizing the battle as a necessary step to preserve the dignity, the authority and the sanity of the executive branch for all future presidents. In the same spirit, he should recognize that there are clear actions here that he needs to take for the good of the office. Those are: Never tweet, and delete your account.
Obviously you should follow me on Twitter, where I prove the necessity of this advice every day.
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