Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Schooling Trump on How To Do Twitter | Opinion

Every medium or technology of communication has its own unique structural biases. Because of these biases, some media are better suited than others for achieving particular communication goals. While texting is a great way to alert a friend that you are running late, for instance, it is a pretty lousy way to conduct an in-depth job interview.

Similarly, the social media platform of Twitter, while great at disseminating messages quickly and widely, is generally not well suited to conducting national politics and fostering healthy public deliberation. Because Twitter is structurally biased toward simplicity (its 280-character limitation), impulsivity (requires little forethought,) and incivility (negatively-toned messages travel faster and further on the platform,) it tends to contribute to and reinforce our already polarized political environment.

But the structural biases of communication technologies are just that... biases, which is to say tendencies. They are not determinative constraints. While Twitter is biased toward impulsivity, for instance, it does not prevent someone from tweeting a thoughtful, carefully constructed message. It may discourage it, but it does not disallow it. I highlight this distinction because, as someone who studies Twitter, I am encouraged by the way Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) uses the platform. I am especially encouraged in contrast to the way that President Trump uses Twitter.

By virtually any measure, but specifically along the axes of aim, tone, and style, AOC's use of Twitter is far better for our politics and our nation than Donald Trump's. AOC uses Twitter to achieve three primary rhetorical aims: advocating (tweets aimed at promoting her ideas, initiatives, and policies); reframing (tweets aimed at correcting the record and calling out her critics, but without engaging in name-calling); and performing (tweets aimed at creating goodwill by portraying herself in thoughtful, engaged, empathetic, and fun-loving ways.)

This is different than Donald Trump, who uses Twitter for three very different aims or purposes: dissembling (tweets aimed at spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories); distracting (tweets aimed at shifting the news narrative away from personally damaging or unfavorable news stories); and discrediting (tweets aimed at demeaning and degrading those who disagree with him.)

These differences are not simply a matter of perspective. AOC advocates by making arguments and marshaling evidence. Trump dissembles by simply declaring things without evidence. AOC reframes by directly, but respectfully confronting opinions she disagrees with. Trump distracts by creating drama where none exists (read: football players kneeling during the anthem.) AOC performs self-worth by demonstrating admirable qualities. Trump discredits because he has no admirable qualities to demonstrate.

Since they use the platform for very different purposes, not surprisingly they also adopt a very different tone. AOC's tone is generally amicable (polite, but not submissive), assertive (direct, but not aggressive), and analytical, while Trump's tone is angry, authoritarian, and hyperbolic. She makes a considered case for her ideals and beliefs, while he rants and raves (using all caps) at anyone who disagrees with or dares challenge him. In short, there is a strong correlation between overall general purpose and overall tone.

Likewise, AOC and Trump employ very different styles on Twitter. AOC's tweets are reasoned (employing enthymematic and metaphorical thinking), structured (utilizing frequent line breaks for clarity and precision), and situated (incorporating frequent embeds to orient readers and emojis to convey emotion). Trump's style, by contrast, reflects the structural biases of Twitter itself (simplicity, impulsive, and incivility,) which is part of the reason he has been so successful on the platform.

By success, I do not mean fostering healthy public discussion and debate, however; I mean stirring up his base, creating political division, shutting down conversation, and promoting vitriol and violence. Trump is the living, tweeting embodiment of the platform's structural biases. And as such, he shows us again and again why we probably ought not conduct our national politics on Twitter and, even more so, why the news media should not amplify his messages.

In resisting Twitter's structural biases, by contrast, AOC manages to show us what thoughtful, reasoned discourse on the platform might actually look like. I am not suggesting, of course, that AOC always lives up to this ideal.

Brian L. Ott, a professor of communication studies and director of the TTU Press at Texas Tech University, is co-author, with Greg Dickinson, of The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Schooling Trump on How To Do Twitter | Opinion | Opinion
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