Grabbing him by the tweets: presidential parody as political activism

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Olivia Wood (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Risa Applegarth

Abstract: It has never been easier for presidents to communicate directly with voters. Social media allows world leaders to post messages to their followers anytime, anywhere, without going through the traditional channels of speechwriters or public relations staff. Donald Trump in particular has become famous--and heavily criticized--for his unorthodox use of Twitter. This criticism has taken many forms, including a crop of Trump-themed parody accounts, tweeting in character as some version of the president. Political satire is nothing new, but social media platforms offer a new genre in which to do it. In this paper, I examine the parodic methods of five different Donald Trump parody accounts on Twitter and compare them to the rhetorical style of @realDonaldTrump. Methods of analysis included code frequency comparisons across accounts, code intersection patterns, word and phrase frequency comparisons, interviews with account owners, and comparative ethnography. Donald Trump parody accounts on Twitter sit at the intersections of new forms of presidential communication, new uses of digital media, and new strategies for activism. Analyzing their role at this crossroads necessitates considerations of genre, rhetorical situation, and the affordances of the platform. My research thus contributes to discussions of genre and digital rhetorical theory by examining our current political situation and how rhetors are employing digital strategies in this controversial real world setting. I approach this project with four research questions: 1) In what ways are different accounts parodying the president, and what rhetorical effects do each of these methods have? 2) What elements of the actual president’s real account do the parodies focus on? How do they differ linguistically from each other and from @realDonaldTrump? 3) How do parody accounts fit into the broader set of anti-Trump activism? 4) What political issues do the different accounts highlight, and what can readers gain from them (other than entertainment)? How do parody accounts communicate a message differently than other types of activism? My results provide a rhetorical picture of @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter activity in late May/early June of 2017 alongside the activities of his parodists, showing how the parodists view the president and which political issues the parodists find most important to discuss.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Donald Trump, Parody, President, Social Media, Twitter
Trump, Donald, $d 1946-
Political satire, American
Political participation $x Technological innovations
Rhetoric $x Political aspects
Social media $x Political aspects

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