TWITTER AND THE 2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF TWEETS AND MEDIA COVERAGE

By Stephen J. McConnell

New York University, Master's Thesis: Submitted and Accepted, December 2015. 

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Study Highlights

  • All of the candidates’ Twitter rhetoric is ridden with ambiguous language and claims that are difficult, if not nearly impossible, to verify.
  • Ad hominem Twitter claims by the candidates nearly always generate substantial media coverage while substantive statements are nearly always ignored. 
  • It’s easy to say something on Twitter, but what is said may have little to no relation to reality. 
  • When U.S. presidential candidates sound off from the Twitter stump and the media disseminate those 140-character sound-offs, it is all too clear that this rhetoric is too powerful and expansive for it to be taken at face value. It should be subjected to scrutiny.
  • All of the candidates’ Twitter rhetoric is plagued with verification issues. It would be unwise to take their Twitter rhetoric at face value (but these tweets are often taken at face value and disseminated to a global audience). 

Implications

1. An assessment of the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates’ Twitter rhetoric shows that it is a vehicle of ambiguity and speculation. That ambiguity and speculation is also widely disseminated by the media. The politicians are the “news outlet.” They post news and they create the news, triggering the media to write about them all because of a simple, and sometimes vicious, tweet. They have the power. The media supports and amplifies that power. Meanwhile, the voter is subjected to this unrelenting flood of uncontrolled rhetoric, which may influence who they choose as the next leader of a global superpower. The implications are real and severe.

2. Twitter statements, while short, contain a powerful dose of persuasion and ambiguity. Yet, we often let tweets go without much scrutiny because they are supposedly only short statements of expression, nothing more, nothing less. However, those short statements of expression influence the media and voters. They should not go unchecked by the public or the media.

Abstract

The unfettered dissemination of political rhetoric by politicians and the media through Twitter has far-reaching implications, beneficial and adverse. However, it is challenging to determine the truth or falsity of that rhetoric. This thesis presents a new model to subject tweets to empirical truth verification. That model is applied to a corpus of tweets posted on the Twitter accounts of four candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. The model identifies an assortment of rhetorical characteristics that are inherent in each candidate’s tweets. It also allows for the evaluation of the rhetorical tendencies of each candidate, as well as determining whether a tweet can be empirically verified. An analysis of the model’s data revealed that all of the candidates’ Twitter rhetoric is ridden with ambiguous language and claims that are difficult, if not nearly impossible, to verify. Furthermore, the model sought to establish what type of rhetorical characteristic tends to trigger pervasive media coverage. That analysis determined that ad hominem claims nearly always generate substantial media coverage while substantive statements are nearly always ignored. 

Conclusion

By politicians and friends, we are inundated with Twitter and social media rhetoric. We think it contains meaning and truth when in fact much of it is factually flimsy or challenging to prove as true. However, we often take these short synthetic statements at face value, even though they are likely ambiguous and vague. U.S. presidential candidates use Twitter to successfully persuade millions of voters. They reach the American populace through the platform and trigger the media to write stories about their campaigns. Sadly, the media broadcasts the candidates’ most factually flimsy statements beyond the Twittersphere, while ignoring concrete statements of fact. That sad state of affairs will not change unless facts are elevated over the salacious.

An assessment of the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates’ Twitter rhetoric shows that it is a vehicle of ambiguity and speculation. That ambiguity and speculation is also widely disseminated by the media. The politicians are the “news outlet.” They post news and they create the news, triggering the media to write about them all because of a simple, and sometimes vicious, tweet. They have the power. The media supports and amplifies that power. Meanwhile, the voter is subjected to this unrelenting flood of uncontrolled rhetoric, which may influence who they choose as the next leader of a global superpower. The implications are real and severe.

Recommendations

We, the public and the media, must scrutinize Twitter rhetoric. We must question and try to understand how Twitter rhetoric is shaped on the platform, especially political Twitter rhetoric. We should also try to understand how this rhetoric is shaping the thoughts of the public and the media. This may be an area of future research. These statements, while short, contain a powerful dose of persuasion and ambiguity. Yet, we often let tweets go without much scrutiny because they are supposedly only short statements of expression, nothing more, nothing less. However, those short statements of expression influence the media and voters. They should not go unchecked by the public or the media.

These claims can be subjected to basic vetting, whether through analysis similar to this model or just plain skepticism. The model offers a unique approach to test the truth potential of these claims, or to at least rethink the claims in terms of their potential for truth — or utter detachment from reality. This is just one approach to peel back the rhetoric and expose the marrow of the statement for what it is: fact, fiction, faction, or outright lie. The media needs only to peel back the surface and look at the marrow of the statement — the basic rhetorical characteristics of the tweet to determine whether it has the potential to contain truth or not. Perhaps that search for truth potential could spur them to question the validity of the statement and question the candidate who made the statement based on that examination. This would restore the media’s role of gatekeeper, at least gatekeeper of Twitter rhetoric. It would also help ensure voters are better informed and not inundated with propaganda and useless rhetoric.

One can argue that Twitter is not meant to broadcast truths. It is meant to convey simple expressions — and not treatises on human behavior or the realpolitik. Because of technological limitations, it can never achieve those ends. But Twitter rhetoric can be concrete. It can be specific. It can be free of ambiguity. It can express truths and statements that contain a high-degree of empirical potential. The rhetorical analysis model developed for this thesis shows that Twitter language can express truths and truths that are not factually flimsy. Political candidates can achieve these ends in as little as 140 characters. It just takes precision and careful use of language.

Findings: Donald Trump and Twitter

Subjecting Trump’s rhetoric to empirical verification is a complex endeavor. Many of his claims are weak or fringe in statement strength. They tend to include little to no elements that can assist empirical verification. The tweets lack factual references. They lack even mere relation to a political position or factual concern. Only two of Trump’s tweets were coded as binaries, clear unequivocal statements of action, policy articulation or intention in which the listener/reader knows exactly how Trump will act on the subject or his precise thoughts on it. His two binaries are “If I am elected President I will immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline. No impact on environment and lots of jobs for U.S.” and “The #IranDeal is a catastrophe that must be stopped. Will lead to at least partial world destruction (and) make Iran a force like never before.” However, the latter statement is riddled with bombastic language, which runs throughout most of Trump’s Twitter rhetoric. The heavy emphasis on emotionally-driven rhetoric often lacks substantiation, thus making the claims fringe. They rouse not the mind (logos), but the emotions (pathos).

Most of Trump’s Twitter rhetoric is devoid of logos (facts) and ethos (values/credibilty). It lacks substance or a factual basis that can be subjected to empirical verification. Being devoid of values means that little is known about what Trump believes in or how his beliefs inform his actions or thoughts. With the exception of the binaries mentioned here and a few other examples, Trump’s rhetoric rarely alludes to a position, or takes a position. If a position is taken, the rhetoric is ambiguous and abstract. Overall, it highly challenging to validate many of Trump’s claims. Nearly a quarter of his synthetic tweets could likely never be empirically validated. Those tweets are opinionated, ad hominem attacks (16 tweets) against an individual or an institution. While those attacks could potentially be proven, they are utterly flimsy, fringe claims that could likely never be validated. The sentiments expressed in those claims may only exist in his mind. They may rouse the senses, but they do not offer new knowledge or perspective on the candidate beyond his proclivity for tirade.

Findings: Bernie Sanders and Twitter

Sanders’ Twitter rhetoric is relatively clear and direct. However, it is not free of the trappings of loose logic nor statements that are challenging to verify. For the most part, Sanders’ tweets represent factual situations and make relatively clear references to political positions. Of the 68 tweets that were coded as synthetic statements, 50 percent referred to a specific concept, position, or idea. Many of his statements had the potential to be observed or verified with relative ease. However, Sanders often suffused his statements of “fact” with values: values that either he or others hold, including his political party and Americans in general. These values can be subject to verification, but as Ayer noted values are not so much a form of truth, but rather a pseudo-truth. They are a truth of a person or a collection of individuals. The statement may not be a truth of universal scale, however. In addition, it is challenging to subject a value to truth verification because values tend to be subjective. My values or personal truths differ from someone else’s values or personal truths.

While Sanders’ Twitter rhetoric is driven by fact-based scenarios or references, those scenarios or references are often intermingled with values as to why that direction or “factual situation” is “believed” to be a better alternative rather than substantiating or providing that proof as to why that is the better direction. Substantiation is lacking, making it difficult though not impossible to verify the validity of his claims. Despite this, the logos orientation of his Twitter sample is a strength, not a weakness in terms of truth verification potential. His reliance on ethos could also be considered a strength, despite the inherent difficulty with verifying some of his values through observation.

Sanders’ Twitter rhetoric also benefits from a strong emphasis on present situations and circumstances. He rarely speculates on the future, and his place and effect on that future. His rhetoric contends with matters of today, which simplifies verification of his statements. However, the addition of values, personal and commonly held, diminishes that verification potential. Ultimately, Sanders’ Twitter corpus projects an impression of an ideas and values candidate though his ideas and values are often unsubstantiated and so intertwined with the his statements of fact that it is difficult to separate them and come to a reasonable conclusion as to its level of truth. He also uses emotional appeals carefully. His Twitter rhetoric does not rely on it, nor does it refuse to use emotive appeals. The emotive qualities of the rhetoric are in the backdrop. The logos, or facts, are in the forefront. 

Findings: Hillary Clinton and Twitter

Clinton’s tweets are overwhelmingly fact driven (logos). Emotive flourishes (pathos) are either not used or emotion is used to increase the persuasive appeal of a fact-oriented statement. This emphasis increases the likelihood her Twitter statements can be validated through empirical means. She makes significant statements about significant matters in a significant number of tweets. Her tweets tend to be substantiated through direct reference to evidence or a concrete situation or topic. However, on occasion, her tweets contain ambiguous language that makes it difficult to prove the merit, or degree of truth, of her claims.

The lack of emotive language may enhance or may diminish the appeal of her message. By avoiding ad hominem rhetoric, she apparently elevates concrete claims over character attacks. That will likely enhance her credibility (ethos). However, it may also diminish her media exposure, as the next chapter of this thesis will show. Clinton’s use of positive emotive rhetoric reveals charisma and a “fight for you” mentality. Her avoidance of negative rhetoric shows that she does not like to sling mud. She wants to address the issues. However, an avoidance of negative rhetoric could also lead to the impression that she is dispassionate and detached.

Like the other candidates, Clinton is susceptible to weaving values (pseudo-concepts) and platitudes into her statements. The bulk of her statements offer that subjective orientation: her values, that of her party, and some that are commonly held. While helpful to understanding her values and beliefs about a given situation, these claims are also difficult to verify. Values have a tendency to not be evidence-based. They also tend to be speculative and contain ambiguous language. Like the other candidates in this study, Clinton makes sweeping, value-infused statements that while lofty and admirable will likely be labeled as “rhetoric” — and not the good kind.

Findings: Jeb Bush and Twitter

Bush’s Twitter rhetoric is enhanced by its lack of equivocation. Although ambiguity exists, nine of Bush’s tweets were coded as binaries: definitive statements of fact on an issue in specific language that is not open to interpretation and that can be readily subjected to verification. Overall, Bush’s Twitter rhetoric is fact oriented. On occasion, ambiguous language and references surface. That rhetoric, however, is suffused with values. Fact and value blend forming pseudo-concept, which may contain vague language and reference to beliefs or ideology that is challenging to subject to verification. Bush heralds his “conservative record.” But, what specifically does that mean? It is a fact that he is a conservative and it is a value that he also holds. However, that label can be interpreted in a myriad of ways depending on whom you ask. The conservative Republican of the 1980s is the not the conservative Republican of today or tomorrow. It is challenging to verify the merit and degree of truth of the conservative moniker as applied to Bush. The word itself entails a multitude of connotations and denotations, many of which evolve with time, context, and circumstance. Nearly all of Bush’s pseudo-claims are considered weak statements for these reasons.

However, the expression of his ethos through pseudo-concepts may appeal to some groups. In addition, unlike all of the other candidates, his willingness to make moral statements may appeal to some while also generating wrath among other groups. Bush may also appeal because his language is not as emotionally driven as the other candidates, particularly Trump. However, like Clinton, that may hurt him because he can also appear to be dispassionate and dispiriting. Ultimately, Bush rhetoric is a hodgepodge of logos, pathos, and ethos. Whether that amalgamation of rhetorical characteristics benefits or hurts him remains to be seen.

Summary, Recommendations

Summary

 A tweet is a tiny statement, but that does not mean a tweet cannot persuade. That inherent character limitation also does not mean a tweet is a rhetorically vapid instrument or that it is devoid of the tools of rhetoric that can make it a powerfully, persuasive instrument. Recognizing the power, influence, and pervasiveness of Twitter in political discourse, this thesis exposed the strong and loose rhetoric laden within those short tweets. That was the first research concern: to develop a model that could identify the multitude of rhetorical characteristics in a tweet. A tweet, this thesis has shown, contains a number of characteristics of persuasive rhetoric: emotive language (pathos), value statements (ethos), time orientation, and factual content (logos). But while tweets contain these rhetorical characteristics and others, a more important question is identifying whether those tweets can be substantiated. Do they contain factual merit? Are tweets devoid of truth, merely utterances meant to persuade but not inform? These are important questions to mull over especially since Twitter is leveraged by politicians to sway the minds of voters in their favor.

Twitter in presidential politics. The 2016 U.S. presidential race is an obvious example of the power and influence of Twitter. Politicians are using Twitter as their own news outlet. Their tweets — “news” from the campaign and the candidate — can influence the electorate and potentially trigger the media to write about them. Recognizing that power and influence of presidential tweets, this thesis examined the rhetorical characteristics of their tweets. It also stripped away that rhetoric to expose the “truth potential” of that statement: whether it can be empirically verified or whether that may be a near impossible task. This is an important and relevant undertaking since Twitter rhetoric is pervasive and influential. That pervasiveness and influence is magnified when a single tweet is broadcasted outside the Twittersphere to billions of people worldwide. When U.S. presidential candidates sound off from the Twitter stump and the media disseminate those 140-character sound-offs, it is all too clear that this rhetoric is too powerful and expansive for it not to be taken at face value. It should be subjected to scrutiny.

However, it is challenging to create a “truth test” for these tiny statements. In addition, no model in the literature was found that would identify a multitude of rhetorical characteristics of a tweet and challenge whether that rhetoric can be empirically verified. I solved that first research dilemma by developing a unique and innovative tweet rhetorical analysis model based off Ayer’s statement verification system. That model provided a wealth of primary data about the rhetorical characteristics of 2016 U.S. presidential candidate’s tweets. That data showed distinct differences and similarities among the candidates’ Twitter rhetoric. It also showed that a tweet should never be taken at face value.

Rationale for verifying twitter claims. Tweets are claims: some of which can be empirically verified and some of which can never be empirically verified. A tweet can contain absolutely concrete language that clearly describes a candidate’s position on an issue. However, a tweet can also contain ambiguous language that makes it challenging to validate the truth of the statement. Moreover, a tweet can be entirely devoid of factual content, amounting to nothing more than an emotional diatribe or a senseless statement. An analysis of the candidates’ tweets for this thesis revealed the frequency in which the candidates used language that is concrete, as well as language that is laden with ambiguity. Of the 300 tweets analyzed, 284 tweets were coded as synthetic statements.

That means the statements were at least capable of being verified. But the capability to verify does not mean it will be easy to do so. Only 17 tweets (5 percent) from the candidates were coded as binaries: clear unequivocal statements on a position or issue. Verification is easy with binaries. What is stated is stated, free and clear of ambiguity. However, 61 of the 286 synthetic tweets were coded as containing ambiguous language — 21 percent of the study sample. Though these statements are not impossible to verify, they are challenging to do so. The statements are ridden with ambiguity and speculation. The statement may be interpreted in many ways depending on whom is doing the interpreting. The statement may also be devoid of much meaning or truth even though a statement was made. In addition, of the 286 synthetic tweets, 109 tweets (38 percent) were coded as pseudo-concepts: a tweet containing a fact and a value. Though value statements are statements of ethos and are an essential rhetorical tool, they are challenging to verify because they are subjective. They are statements of perspective that not everyone, or anyone other than the speaker, may agree with.

Many of the tweets contain these and other issues that make them challenging, if not nearly impossible, to verify. 117 tweets of the 300-tweet corpus were coded as weak statements, challenging though not impossible to verify. 41 tweets were coded as fringe statements, highly challenging, if not nearly impossible to verify. 124 tweets were coded as strong statements, but the bulk of them were coded as strong statements because they were basic propositions (90 tweets). They offer little in terms of new knowledge.

Twitter speak. The challenges of empirical verification, coupled with the use of ambiguous language, reveal a not-so-evident problem with the character limitation of Twitter. It’s easy to say something, but what is said may have little to no relation to reality. Moreover, proving whether the statement is true or not through even a rudimentary empirical assessment may be nearly impossible. In addition, politicians can cherry pick from the rhetorical toolbox to say something that is appealing in part because it contains an amalgamation of logos, pathos, and ethos. But what is said may be ridden with ambiguity, loose logic, or worse, utterly senseless. An assessment of the presidential candidates’ Twitter rhetoric reveals those issues and others. Ultimately, it shows that the truth is slippery, difficult to validate, and rarely concrete on Twitter even though it is possible to make short, concrete statements of fact.

Flimsy presidential twitter rhetoric. All of the candidates’ Twitter rhetoric is plagued with verification issues. It would be unwise to take their Twitter rhetoric at face value. It must be subjected to scrutiny. Also, not one candidate is more or less dishonest than the others are. It would be a grave error to make that type of determination from a small body of evidence. However, the data does reveal tendencies of what a candidate is willing to say or not say and how they are willing or not willing to express it. Trump, for example, rarely stated a position on an issue or factual concern. His Twitter sample revealed near complete disregard for logos. On the other hand, his Twitter rhetoric was laced with pathos — and the lowest form of it, the ad hominem attack.

In contrast, Clinton and Bush’s Twitter rhetoric lacked the emotive frequency and intensity of Trump’s rhetoric. They turn to logos instead of pathos to persuade audience. When they use emotive language, they do so judiciously. This style of rhetoric may have contributed to Bush’s decline in the polls and his decision to recast his public image as a firebrand: “There's a new Jeb Bush on the campaign trail: More combative with his rivals, fired up in his speeches, looser and candid with reporters” (Lee, 2015). Whether or not a candidate’s style of rhetoric benefits or hurts their campaign is outside the scope of this thesis. Whether the public reacts to that impression positively or negatively is also well outside the scope of this thesis.

Twitter impressions. An examination of the rhetorical characteristics of the candidates’ Twitter rhetoric does provide an impression of the candidate: what they state (of factual or emotive basis), how firmly they are willing to state a claim (strong or weak statement), and how they chose to express that statement (through logos, pathos, or ethos). That close examination also reveals their rhetorical propensities and perhaps ultimately the type of person and candidate they are. The rhetoric clearly shows Trump as the firebrand (pathos), Clinton as the non-emotive, position-oriented candidate (logos), Sanders as cheerleader of populist values (ethos), and Bush as an admixture of facts and values (logos/pseudo-concepts).

But the impressions they project through Twitter can be challenging to verify empirically. Moreover, the impressions may be false, though sadly taken at face value by the media and the public. What is seemingly evident and clear in a 140-character statement is not so seemingly evident and clear when subjected to the model’s rhetorical assessment. Taken at face value, a mere read of the content of the tweet, it may likely be perceived as true: it was expressed by someone at some point in time. There is little doubting that something was expressed by someone at some time: a claim was made, a claim that may or may not be challenging to subject to verification.

Twitter smokescreen. The model shows that tweets should never be taken at face value, especially from politicians. The content itself is likely a smokescreen, a ruse, a red herring, a faction, propaganda or potentially a substantiated claim that can be easily verified through rudimentary empirical methods. That surface content must be peeled back to expose the rhetorical characteristics of the statement. It is only through that close analysis that we can begin to arrive at deciding whether a tweet is potentially true or not. This close analysis should occur well before we attempt to determine its truth by assessing the context to which it refers. That may not even be necessary if we pick apart the rhetorical bones of the tweet first, remove the surface flesh, and feast on the truth within.

Scrutinize the twitter smokescreen. If anything, the model shows that Twitter scrutiny is necessary. Otherwise, we will never be informed or be able to distinguish what is truly fact or what is truly fiction. If we just read the surface content of the tweet, just the words and the apparent truths that offers us, we will drown our perceptions and thoughts in a sea of half-baked, concocted claims. These claims will persuade us to believe in lies and factions. These claims will influence us to vote for candidates who do not deserve our vote.

Be fooled or not by twitter. The implications are substantial. If current trends serve as an indication of things to come, Twitter and other social media platforms will likely become the sole “news outlets” for hundreds of millions of Americans. They will be “informed” of the events of the day through social media, not the broadsheet. Nevertheless, while the information may inform, it may not always convey the truth. If the Twitter rhetoric of the presidential candidates is any indication, that “information” contains various degrees of truth — some fact, some fiction, some faction. However, much of it is factually flimsy and ridden with ambiguity. Moreover, these “newsmakers” with their “news outlets” hold an extreme advantage: the limitations of expression on the platform means they can get away with making a broad and vague statement that gets attention and influences voters. However, that statement may also be nearly devoid of factual meaning or the ability to verify its content. The “information,” the tweet, the Facebook post must be scrutinized. Otherwise, we will just be consumers of information, and much of it empty rhetoric — oceans away from achieving wisdom or truth.

Media and public implications. Twitter claims also persuade the media to write stories about the claims. The media is a consumer and disseminator of political Twitter rhetoric. Because of the need to understand the flow of Twitter rhetoric from candidate to media to beyond the Twittersphere, the model assessed what type of rhetorical characteristics tend to trigger media coverage of a candidate’s tweet. The thesis also sought to answer an additional key question: does the media disseminate political Twitter rhetoric that can likely never be fact-checked? The disturbing answer to that question is yes. It appears that that is the vast majority of the rhetoric they are interested in.

To a highly substantial degree, the model determined that presidential candidate tweets containing ad hominem rhetoric almost always trigger pervasive coverage. Meanwhile, tweets coded as binaries — substantial and substantive statements of fact about an issue or political position — almost never triggered pervasive coverage. The implications of this finding are substantial, and arguably grave, for the media and voters. The media ignores substantial messages of fact that they can fact-check (empirically validate) with relative ease. Meanwhile, ad hominem tweets from candidates nearly always trigger media coverage. Because of their highly subjective nature, ad hominem tweets are typically falsehoods disguised as truth. But because they are directed at someone, they have the potential to be true: true at least in the mind of the person making the claim, true because a person made a statement. The latter can be verified. However, because of its subjective nature, it is extremely challenging to verify ad hominem claims because it may only be true in the mind of the person making the claim.

An ad hominem attack is not, however, a substantial and substantive statement of fact that can be easily substantiated through empirical means. It is not a statement of fact on a political issue or concern. It is an attack against a character or an institution. Despite these issues and the fact that many ad hominem attacks can likely never be fact-checked, the media widely disseminated ad hominem tweets from the candidates, particularly Trump, while virtually ignoring tweets coded as binaries. This occurred despite the fact that journalists usually follow either a personal or an institutional code of ethics that requires them to fact-check information before publishing it. They are the gatekeepers. But it appears, at least with Twitter, that there is no keeper at the gate. The gate is wide open.

Binary tweets and media coverage. Of the 17 binary tweets subjected to analysis, only two of those tweets received pervasive coverage. The remainder received scant coverage. Meanwhile of the 17 ad hominem tweets subjected to analysis, only two received scant coverage, while the other 15 tweets triggered pervasive coverage. Substantial and substantive statements made by the candidates on Twitter received little to no widespread coverage. That means those statements did not extend beyond the Twittersphere. However, ad hominem claims made by the candidates on Twitter received pervasive coverage in the media. That means those statements extended beyond the Twittersphere. Voters not on Twitter heard those messages. Their opinions of the candidates could have been shaped for and against them because of anger-fueled language. Their opinions were not shaped because of specific ideas on positions, policies, or concerns. They likely never heard those messages.

Flimsy tweets become stories. Sadly, journalists are triggered to write stories from tweets that likely cannot be fact-checked. They cannot be gatekeepers when the tweet doing the triggering cannot be vetted. In this system of Twitter newsgathering, they are abdicating their role as gatekeeper in favor of publishing the salacious. According to this thesis’ survey of media professionals and students, 77 percent of 62 respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that “tweets from presidential candidates should be treated as news sources by journalists.” In addition, 89 percent of 57 respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that “journalists must fact check a presidential candidates' tweets before using them in a story.” 48 percent of 58 respondents were also triggered to write a news story about an individual or organization because of a tweet.

The survey adds to a growing body of evidence observing Twitter influence on the media. Tweets have the power to instantly alter the news cycle and redirect the media spotlight. To a significant degree, these media professionals and students agreed that they must fact-check the tweets that trigger them to broadcast stories about an individual or organization that tweeted something interesting. However, in this study, the tweets that were widely disseminated by the media are tweets that would likely never be subjected to fact-checking. It’s nearly impossible to fact-check a character attack. It’s an emotive statement, usually devoid of facts. However those factually devoid, emotive statements now drive media cycles — or spur the creation of new cycles. The tweets are then projected beyond the Twittersphere, where they may influence public opinion. In this case, the “news outlet” — the presidential candidate — has complete control over their message because no one is guarding the gate in part because they cannot guard the gate. Conversely, they need to ignore rhetoric that cannot be fact-checked.