A number of people have written me up to ask what my model predicts about whether Mr. Trump is the one who posts retweets. When I trained the models, I specifically avoided any retweet of someone else’s post, because there aren’t any textual clues present if the person who clicked the “retweet” icon doesn’t enter some text of their own.
That being said, I have spent a little time looking into whether there are any identifiable patterns of retweets, and my hunch is that Mr. Trump is not the one who makes actual Twitter retweets.
What a twitter retweet looks like
When you retweet someone else’s tweet, the twitter metadata includes a section called “retweeted_status,” which links back to the original tweet and author. Here is a recent retweet from @realDonaldTrump that a number of people have asked me about (since it has also made a bunch of headlines):
As you can see, there’s the light grey text at the top that indicates this is a retweet. The metadata for this indicates that @realDonaldTrump retweeted this at 6:14 PM on Nov 28, 2018, and that the original tweet was posted at 11:53 PM the day before.
The first actual retweet in the @realDonaldTrump archive was made at 11:06 PM on Jan 2, 2016. It is a retweet of Mr. Trump’s son, Eric.
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) January 3, 2016
This was made with an iPhone, and as my analysis here suggests, that iPhone was not in Mr. Trump’s hand. There is, in fact, only one retweet posted by an Android phone (which Mr. Trump was using) made at 1:55 PM on Feb 21, 2016. Otherwise, the hundreds of retweets that have been made since Jan 2, 2016 have been made using iPhones, with a few made from an iPad or Twitter’s web client.
What Mr. Trump’s retweets look like
This is not to say that Mr. Trump never re-tweeted. It’s just that he did it manually, 10,804 times, by replying to the author, putting their original text in quotes, and often adding a word or two of his own at the end. Here is one example.
"@HoustonWelder: Donald Trump is one of the sexiest men on this planet. Every woman dreams of a good man who tells it like it is." So true!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2015
The last one in this style was made from an Android phone at 9:45 PM on Jan 25, 2017, just a few days after his inauguration.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2017
Here’s where my own opinions comes in.
Dan Scavino, who is Mr. Trump’s Director of Social Media, joined the campaign at the beginning, according to Wikipedia, but became its director of social media in February of 2016. Perhaps he was the person who started doing formal retweets from the iPhone and Twitter Web Client? The fact that he admitted to selecting the infamous retweeted image of Hillary Clinton with a six-pointed-star lends some credibility to the idea that he is behind at least some fraction of the twitter retweets.
Now there is no reason that Mr. Trump couldn’t have learned how to do a twitter retweet. However, I’m not convinced he changes his twitter idiom. My Deep Learning model rarely identifies Mr. Trump as the author of a tweet containing a URL. Android tweets almost never included them, so the prediction today is that Mr. Trump still isn’t the one sending them. If indeed he hasn’t changed his avoidance of including URLs, then perhaps he hasn’t started retweeting either.
Certainly, that is pure conjecture without any proof. But it is what I have to offer.