The President’s Tweets: First Amendment Right or Failed Social Media Policy

I first blogged about Former President Trump’s tweets in 2018 (read here). In the post, I offered my expert opinion on whether or not these tweets should be taken seriously. The answer was “yes.” As an elected official, the president’s tweets are a valid form of communication.

However, some basic questions were missed. If the president is tweeting, does that mean he has freedom to write anything without editing, proofing, or monitoring? Is it allowable for the president to maintain a personal account?

Answering these questions gets tricky.

A solid social media policy could provide some clarity. It’s common for organizations to create social media policies to establish guidelines. Guidelines may include rules on posting acceptable content. Or what employees can post as professionals and sometimes even as personal individuals outside of work. Or if maintaining personal and professional accounts is acceptable.

It’s also common for organizations to establish posting procedures. For example, the communications department must vet all tweets before posting them.

Before writing this post I wondered, did the Executive Office of the President for former President Trump have a social media policy? I wasn’t able to locate one. And if they did, it’s hard to imagine it would have allowed the president so much freedom. As far as I understand, the president is neither an emperor nor a dictator. He’s an elected official.

However, while obtaining my Masters in Archival Studies, I was shocked to learn about the history of presidential records. Prior to the Presidential Records Act of 1978, presidential records belonged to the president. He removed them when he left office.

Maintaining personal and professional accounts

The second question is even trickier to answer. Clearly Donald Trump had his own Twitter account, with followers, before taking office. As president, he maintained his personal account and one for POTUS. (Read about All the President’s Tweets.)

However, as a highly elected official, it would have been almost impossible for Trump to separate himself as an individual from his role as president. When one holds such a high title and prominent role, little space exists for the personal individual. Therefore, in this instance, it would have made sense to put the personal account on hold until the term finished.

The answer seems easy and straightforward, but it’s not. Herein lies the complexity of using social media.

Feeding the Feed: Social Media’s Greatest Triumph

Social media wouldn’t exist without users to create content. Or without users to promote, share, comment on, and like content. In other words, social media’s survival depends on two main ingredients: content and interaction with the content.

In order for social media companies to exist, they have to convince people to create content. New content. Flashy content. Interesting content that people will read. Or in lieu of reading, clicking on an attractive, sensational headline and sharing it.

Slowly, social media became an integral part of our lives. People now rely on it for things like communicating with friends and family. Or for promoting businesses and services. Or for socializing and forming groups.

However, social media also relies on us, as potential content creators, to create content. This is the sneaky part of social media. We become addicted to it and dependent on it. The more we use it, the more social media companies can survive and thrive. We continually feed the social media beast. In most cases, we do it willingly, voluntarily, and gladly for what we perceive that we’re getting in return.

When you disconnect from your device, and favorite social media apps for a few moments, the relationship becomes clearer. Social media needs us and we need them. Even for those of us who have become wary of using social media (e.g., The Deletist!), we still have to use it once in a while. If we don’t, we miss out on too many things. It’s a complicated relationship.

Without users to feed the feeds, social media wouldn’t exist. Who would bother to use it if content never changed?

Although I haven’t done any research on this, I suspect that the 80/20 rule applies to social media. Essentially, this means 80% of the content is created by 20% of the users. Some people are prolific, and successful, content creators. Other people are happy to share and interact with existing content, rather than create new content themselves.

Either way, the social media companies benefit. They’ve convinced us to do the dirty work of running their machines. Sure, we get some benefits from it. But if we really understood the true cost of what we’ve been giving up, would we still “feed the feeds” so willingly?

The 400th Posting

Despite the craziness of the past year, I have regularly posted every Monday. Although it’s been challenging at times to make my deadline, I remain committed. It’s been a small focal point of normalcy and routine in an otherwise strange, topsy-turvy time.

These milestone posts are fun for me. They’re a chance to review what I discovered in the last year. This past year included a lot of pandemic-specific posts, social media, data privacy, mail-in voting, and what to do when your phone gets wet. Yup, I dropped my phone in water this summer. Second time this happened. It mostly recovered.

The pandemic created a lot of disruption. This ultimately led to change. Things are now different. Not necessarily good or bad, just different. Read more in “The Disruption and Promise of the Pandemic.” A highlight is “The Problem with Doing Business by Email,” a constant pain point for me. Read other pandemic posts here.

This past year was also busy for social media. Companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, were busy managing disinformation/misinformation campaigns on the pandemic and US elections. It turned into a game of “Whac-A-Mole.” However, social media likes to have it both ways. They like to market themselves as places for free speech, a “Digital Town Square.” But in reality, they often end up only “Fanning the Flames.”

I also moved, again, leading to several new posts. A personal favorite is “Moving: Panic vs. Proper Packing.” Yup, plenty of panic packing. Other insights available starting with “Moving. Ugh.” Also check out “How to Label Things Properly.”

Six new posts were added to the Human Archives series. The first one, “Tangible,” continues my internal debate on paper vs. electronic books. I love “Ferocity,” a true story of ladybugs happily clearing up an aphid infestation in my garden. Another highlight is “Taking Flight,” a chance to appreciate how we learn new skills and our instinctual drive. Read more here.

Around Halloween I added installments to my Technombie series. Mommy Three Arm, the story of a pregnant woman deciding if she wants to grow a helpful third arm. Following that is “Technombie 6,” about how Mayor Peebles did something to the election results. Or did he?

Social Media: Having it Both Ways

Social media is a strange beast. The decision to finally expel DJ Trump off of Facebook and Twitter was long overdue.

However, social media companies like to have it both ways. On the one hand, they are fond of advertising their platforms as “digital town squares.” As I wrote about last week, places where people can come together (digitally) to converse and discuss. To hear different and opposing view points.

In reality, many (if not all) social media companies use a lot of behind the scenes algorithms to customize your view. Often this customization displays things the company thinks you will like. Or things that will grab your attention. This results in you clicking on more things. The ultimate goal is to have you spend more time on the site.

However, in some cases, this means users only see more of the same. Exposure to varied or opposing viewpoints is limited, or non-existent. This means followers of groups like QAnon, for example, only see what this group posts. It also means many people “game the system” by posting sensational, catchy, and exaggerated content to make it to the top of the feed chain.

Even though social media likes to present itself as an outlet for free speech (a defender even!), communication, and a digital gathering spot, this isn’t how it works for some users. In some instances, users’ feeds only show a narrow viewpoint of the world and their interests. Narrow, as compared to the wealth of information options available just a short click away on any social media platform.

This is not by accident either. These companies invest serious money into ways to hold us captive on their sites. To ensure we become addicted and dependent on a particular site or service. Our attention is a premium.

Over the summer I listened to a great podcast from the NYTimes called “Rabbit Hole.” The podcast chronicles the transformation of a man who ends up as a right-wing enthusiast literally from watching YouTube videos. It becomes an addiction. By the end of the podcast series, he converts to the left. Somehow he discovered YouTube videos featuring a different viewpoint that seduced him to the other side.

In summary, we are still living in a man’s world. A world where white men with too much power and hubris make critical decisions. Decisions that the rest of us have to live with.

The Digital Town Square

Social media is often referred to as a “digital town square.” This expression conjures up images of a place where people can go to say anything. To discuss whatever is on their mind. To converse with others, who may or may not agree with their viewpoints.

I suppose, based on this description, that social media is meant to replicate an in-person experience where we chitchat with one another. The big problem with this image is that digital and physical communication are two vastly different mediums.

In reality, a real-life town square is physically small with a limited ability to spread beyond its boundaries. People discussing ideas in a real town square must remember what was said. It’s also highly unlikely that every snippet of conversation would be posted, shared, and distributed across the globe in seconds. And possibly with photos, or video, attached.

Social media, by contrast, spreads anything and everything. By anyone. Some of the things that make social media so amazing and successful, are also the things that make it unbearable.

The image of a digital town square is warm and fuzzy. It makes us believe that social media is inviting and welcoming. Innocent and harmless, even. Although it can be in some circumstances, the reality is different.

Over the years, issues continually emerged about how social media is used, by whom and for what purpose. For example trolling, doxxing, cyberbullying, election rigging, using automated bots for any number or reasons, etc. And of course the latest addition to the list, inciting violence and riots. Though to be fair, this last one has appeared before, but now there’s a renewed interest in it.

Social media companies, and legislators, have tried desperately to keep up. But they can’t. Algorithms to facilitate automated searching and monitoring, moderators, and new policies are examples of their efforts. However, social media is too widely spread, too diverse, and too rooted in everyday life for a simple fix.

The image of a digital town square dissolved a long time ago. Yet, I still hear this phrase repeated often. Even after this past week’s violent attacks on the US Capitol, some of which originated on various social media platforms.

Isn’t it time to redefine what social media is and how we use it?


At long last 2020 is over, but the pandemic continues. I can’t decide if it feels better or worse to be in another lockdown. The third one, by my count. It’s not as shocking as the first time. This time around I know how to plan for it and get groceries. I have strategies to deal with the loneliness and lack of physical interaction. But at the same time, we’re still dealing with it.

This past year has reinforced the need to accept how things are. The lockdowns, restrictions, and constant need to socially distance have served as reminders for what I can and can’t control. It helps that everybody is dealing with the same thing. It’s a collective experience.

When the pandemic first started, I steeled myself for the long term. I set my expectations that it would go on for more than a year. The thought wasn’t based on anything more than reading about past pandemics. Typically there are multiple waves.

Back in March, when I started preparing myself mentally for the long term, I figured if the pandemic was shorter than I was planning for, I would be pleasantly surprised. If not, then I would have my contingency plans in place.

Even though I had my contingency plan, what has really helped is to remind myself to go along with the movement. At this time, the only thing I can really do is try to stay safe. Listen to the recommended guidelines like mask wearing, hand washing, restricted movement. Beyond that, I can’t control what other people do or how long this blasted thing will last.

I will be very glad when I no longer hear “stop the spread” and “in these unprecedented times.” Hopefully these horrible phrases can be left in 2020.

Running stream at Wulaia Bay.