Last week, Donald Trump tweeted that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military — a declaration that dominated the news for days afterward. It was the latest example of how, in the months since becoming president, Trump has used Twitter as a newsmaking machine, providing the otherwise ailing platform with what appears to be a great deal of influence and commanding the public’s attention at his whim.
Trump commands much less attention on social media platforms that aren’t Twitter, however. On the president’s Instagram — which is likely run by staff, as opposed to Twitter, which is thought to be the president himself — Trump’s official presence is abysmal. Despite posting over 2,000 times since creating the account in April 2013, Trump’s account receives fewer daily follows than that of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who has only posted a little over 200 pictures on Instagram since joining in 2012. (Obama stopped posting on the account after leaving the White House.)
Trump’s lackluster use of Instagram isn’t for a lack of trying. The president’s page shares the same dubious information he disseminates elsewhere: cherry-picked details like a Bloomberg graphic with the heading “America's Labor Market Continues to Boom,” captioned “JOBS JOBS JOBS,” and screenshots of his tweets leveling indictments of the “fake news” media. The account shares crudely produced videos that feign a “behind-the-scenes” aesthetic but land closer to feeling like hectic family vacation videos. There are a slew of average-looking press photos of Trump in official settings, none of which appear especially manicured, or even curated. In many of the images, the president looks caught off guard. If you scroll back far enough, to December 2016, there’s a baffling repost of a photo from Donald Jr’s page featuring president Trump with Tiger Woods and a child. The caption poses the question, “Who wants to complete this threesome?”
#Repost @donaldjtrumpjr ・・・ Who wants to complete this threesome? Or more importantly how many strokes is Kai going to give @tigerwoods and grandpa @realdonaldtrump ??? It was really funny watching them warmup on the range @trumpgolfpalmbeach when Tiger joked he's an 8 handicap and he's ready to play. 😂 #golf #kidsgolf #trump #christmas #vacation
Much of the discussion around the president’s tweets frames Trump as a sort of postmodern genius. Writing in The New Republic, Jeet Heer said that “In a world where commerce and media (including social media) reward performance above truth telling, it’s not surprising that a figure like Trump rises to the top.” Last year, as Trump soared through the Republican Primary, Slate dubbed him the “winner” of Twitter. For whatever reason, CNN has compiled every Trump tweet, ever.
All of this appears to be a tremendous amount of handwringing over the president’s dominance of a diminishing social platform. In the past quarter, Twitter saw user growth grind to a halt, and dealt with continued personnel shakeups as it struggles to find profitability. There’s no question that the President of the United States behaving as Trump does on Twitter is baffling and absurd, but not necessarily in the way that many commentators seem to believe. Looking at Trump’s presence on other social channels, where he exists as a sad nobody, puts his crass Twitter presence into perspective.
Just as the types of trolls who thrive on Twitter have found no such luck on platforms on like Instagram — which continues to experience rapid growth thanks to new messaging features that mimic Snapchat — Donald Trump’s message doesn’t resonate on more popular, visually driven social networks. On Instagram, where polished images and enviable experiences drive engagement — and may be pushing teenagers to depression — Trump has little to offer.
In fact, it is a platform where the other side of Trump’s presidency becomes most apparent. As opposed to a maniacal genius playing four-dimensional chess with the entire planet, Trump’s Instagram gives the impression of an old man in way over his head. The @realDonaldTrump account, which has just over 7 million followers, has inexplicably posted the same bad rendering of an American flag twice, and is riddled with the type of text-filled images you might find on your grandparents’ long-abandoned Instagram page from 2010. If Trump’s Twitter use is savvy, or “futuristic” as Kanye West called it, his Instagram is precisely the opposite, outdated and pathetic.
For this reason it is mildly comforting to scroll through the President’s objectively bad Instagram page. Unlike Twitter, where trolls like Trump can hide their true nature, Instagram is more revealing. Here, in a sea of pristinely curated images, Trump’s fraud is most apparent.