Twitter may be considered President Donald Trump’s domain, but it is actually his predecessor who appears to be better at leveraging the platform — and with less effort.
Former President Barack Obama’s tweet reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August was the most-liked tweet of 2017 and in Twitter history, according to Twitter’s year-in-review, released on Tuesday. The tweet, sent from Obama’s personal @BarackObama account, quotes Nelson Mandela’s 1994 autobiography: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…”
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..." pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
It was also the second-most retweeted tweet of the year. (The most retweeted was about chicken nuggets.)
Trump was the year’s most tweeted-about world leader and most frequently mentioned US elected official, but none of his individual tweets broke through among the most-liked or most-retweeted messages.
John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I've ever known. Cancer doesn't know what it's up against. Give it hell, John.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 20, 2017
And two more of Obama’s tweets from the end of his term, from the @POTUS44 account archive of his Twitter activity as president, were also among 2017’s most retweeted messages.
Thank you for everything. My last ask is the same as my first. I'm asking you to believe—not in my ability to create change, but in yours.— President Obama (@POTUS44) January 11, 2017
It's been the honor of my life to serve you. You made me a better leader and a better man.— President Obama (@POTUS44) January 20, 2017
Trump may use Twitter more often, but Obama uses it more wisely
Trump’s use of Twitter has become a topic of national conversation as part of his rise to political prominence and, ultimately, the White House. His tweets often dominate the news cycle and shift the conversation, whether it’s an attack on NFL players peacefully protesting during the national anthem or a personal insult calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “short and fat” with the potential to escalate a nuclear conflict.
Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017
Trump’s Twitter use has been the subject of various analyses of his moods and habits and musings about potentially distractive strategies. When a mischievous departing employee deleted his account for 11 minutes this fall, it was national news.
“It is undeniable that Twitter has been thrust into the global zeitgeist following the US Presidential Election in November 2016,” BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield wrote in a February note. “Trump is giving consumers a reason to learn how to use Twitter, furthering the reason for public figures etc. to put content on the platform.”
Trump himself has touted his use of social media as “modern day presidential.”
But before there was Trump on presidential Twitter, there was Obama.
Obama, who joined Twitter as @BarackObama in 2007, was a pioneer in leveraging social media — not only Twitter but also Facebook and Myspace — in his 2008 presidential bid and even more so in 2012. His 2012 tweet, “Four more years,” after winning reelection became the most retweeted tweet ever in its moment.
Obama sent the first tweet from the official @POTUS account, which now belongs to Trump, in May 2015.
Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.— President Obama (@POTUS44) May 18, 2015
Part of what could explain Obama’s single-tweet reach is that he has really picked his moments to send messages, and those messages have been few and far between. Delivering remarks in New Delhi last week, Obama described his Twitter philosophy: “Think before you tweet.”
Trump … takes a different approach. His Twitter activity is a constant stream of content that runs the gamut, making it harder for a single tweet to stand out or capture attention for an extended period of time. Last Saturday, for example, Trump fired off tweets about tax reform, Rosa Parks, Melania Trump’s White House decorations, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and ABC News reporter Brian Ross’s suspension. And he sent a tweet about Michael Flynn in which he might have admitted to obstruction of justice.
And Trump’s most retweeted tweet ever is a fake video of him beating up CNN, a GIF that originated on an alt-right Reddit community from a user named HanAssholeSolo:
It’s also worth noting that Obama’s personal account, @BarackObama, has 97.6 million followers, more than Trump’s @RealDonaldTrump’s 44.1 million.