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Does Trump's Twitter Constitute U.S. Policy?

A close-up view of a young woman using her smartphone
By Ashley Ravid on July 02, 2020 1:57 PM

Donald Trump's presidency has been notable for many reasons, but throughout his term one unique characteristic of his leadership has been to seemingly use Twitter to announce policy decisions and opinions before any official statements are made elsewhere.

Do Trump's tweets count as official U.S. policy, or are they all just talk?

Court Rulings

In 2017, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University brought suit against President Trump. Their suit argued that Trump blocking users on his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, was violating those users' First Amendment rights by preventing them from participating in a public forum because of their political views.

The suit also stated that "the @realDonaldTrump account has been used in the course of the appointment of officers (including cabinet secretaries), the removal of officers, and the conduct of foreign policy."

Both a lower federal and an appellate court held that Trump was not permitted to block anyone on Twitter. In their opinion, the appeals court affirmed that the president's Twitter account was used for "all manner of official purposes." Trump additionally stated that the @realDonaldTrump account is used to "announce, describe, and defend his policies."

Presidential Twitter Impact

Beyond the court rulings, there has been no clear statement to affirm that Trump's tweets are official U.S. policy, but it has been recognized that his tweets do serve in at least a somewhat official capacity. And even if his Twitter account as a whole doesn't formally constitute U.S. policy, the president's tweets still can have a major impact on the stock market, international diplomacy, and more.

Not every idea or policy proposal that Trump announces or muses about on Twitter comes to fruition, though. Even if no official policy follows a particular tweet, the statement is often enough to cause people and industries to react in ways that impact economies and international relations across the world.

In 2019, Trump tweets discussing a trade deal with China caused a ripple in the stock market and led to oil prices dropping. That same year, analysts at the financial firm JPMorgan Chase & Co created the "Volfefe Index," which measured the impact Trump's tweets had on the stock market, and found the effect to be "statistically significant," especially when the tweets focused on China, "billion," and "products."

A few other sticky policy situations with foreign bodies, including Australia and the European Union, resulted from the president's tweets as well.

Trump's latest Twitter battle is against the app itself, as it recently began labeling his tweets (among others) to indicate when they violate Twitter rules or present misinformation as fact.

Even without any official statement to define the exact role the president's Twitter account plays, it is not a stretch to say that Twitter will remain an important platform for both those for and against Trump's reelection this November.

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