Evil communications corrupt good manners.
The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
It is time for a brief lesson on the art of reporting about tweeting, and how tweeting is affecting the identities of those in the Tweetisphere. Since the tweet is being used almost exclusively by someone who identifies himself as @realDonaldTrump (to distinguish himself from someone who, inexplicably, might seek to establish an on-line presence as @unrealDonaldTtrump or @fakeDonaldTrump), the question assumes an importance it did not have until @realDonaldTrump assumed the office he now enjoys. Although not privy to the complete etiquette of tweeting or what might be called “Tweetiquette”, two things have become obvious over the last few months.
The first is that the tweet does not stand alone when being reported by the print media. It has become accepted that when reporting on a presidential or, indeed, any other tweet, the text of the tweet is reported verbatim in the context of the paragraph in which it is being reported. That paragraph is then immediately followed by an indented, and sometimes smaller fonted, repeat of the tweet. Thus, for example, a recent edition of the Washington publication, The Hill, contains a report by Jacqueline Thomsen about DJT’s description of his brilliant success in helping Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma. In her report she quotes the Trumpian Tweet saying: “Nobody could have done what I’ve done for #PuertoRico with so little appreciation. So much work!” That paragraph is immediately followed by the tweet itself. It includes the Trump face, followed by the name Donald J. Trump, followed by the tweet’s text. The same protocol was followed in an article describing the same tweet that appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
Another example of quoting and then repeating the tweet, is found in a CNN description of the dispute between @realDonaldTrump and Senator Bob Corker. The CNN report quoted verbatim the @realDonaldTrump tweet saying; “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out . . . .Didn’t have the guts to run.” That report is then followed by the transcription of the three tweets that quote comprises, all from the @realDonaldTrump. The CNN report then continues with another verbatim quote of @realDonaldTrump in which tweet a description of Senator Corker’s efforts on the “Iran Deal” are described followed by the appearance of the tweets themselves. The foregoing practice seems to be universally accepted in the publishing world and, accordingly, one has come to treat it as tweet protocol. Although this is nothing more than speculation, it may have become the custom in the publishing world because so many of the tweets that emanate from @realDonaldTrump are so preposterous, inane, or suggest an unhinged creator that, were the tweets simply reported verbatim without the benefit of publishing the tweets themselves, they would not be credible, and people would accuse the publication of publishing “fake news.” Publishing the tweet itself eliminates any possibility that the tweets were created by the entity reporting the tweets.
Another feature of the tweet is that its handle, as it were, has become a part of the identity of the place being referred to, or the human with whom the tweet is associated. Thus, in DJT’s tweet about Puerto Rico, he doesn’t simply refer to “Puerto Rico” but #PuertoRico. This enables the reader to click on that word and be taken to a source that tells the reader more about Puerto Rico. More difficult to understand is the reason for the use of @ when referring to people such as the president or the vice president.
When Vice President Pence walked out of a football game in Indiana, without waiting to see if his favorite team won or lost, (the walkout reportedly taking place according to a pre-arranged scheme between DJT and Mr. Pence), DJT tweeted that he: “asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.” Playing along with those ways of describing each other and, in this case, Mr. Pence’s wife, after @VP Pence left the stadium he explained his departure. He said: “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” (It is unclear why the “Flag” was capitalized and “soldiers” was not.) By referring to @POTUS, @VP Pence assumed that tweet readers would know he was referring to @realDonaldTrump.
This piece is not meant to be the final word on the practice of attaching “@” or” #” when naming people or places. By alerting readers to these practices, however, it may make the readers’ journeys through the tweetisphere more enjoyable and give them things to look for. And on the bright side, the advent of these practices are among the least harmful things that have been introduced into our world since @realDonaldTrump became what he has become.