“Presidential” Communication?: Assessing the Impact of the “Twitter President” on the Record of History Made by the Presidential Records Act
Our Research examined whether or not the Presidential Records Act is sufficiently able to preserve an accurate and thorough record of the President’s online communications, specifically on Twitter. We examined the President’s use of Twitter through both his personal @realDonaldTrump account and his “presidential” @POTUS accounts as a way to examine content of the accounts and the differences in use. A lasting concern from our research is who the responsibility of preservation of these digital communications falls on, whether the administration, national archivist, or the social media platform itself.
Achievements of our Collaboration
Dr. Magaldi and my’s research was accepted for presentation at the Midwest Academy of Legal Studies in Business conference in Chicago for March 2019. The presentation was scheduled to only be roughly 15 minutes, but because one of the presenters was absent, I was able to present our work for our allotted time, but I also answered questions for an additional 20 minutes. It was exciting to see the audience engaging with our material and our research and many of the questions they asked were ones that I had answers to thanks to the depth of research Dr. Magaldi and I tackled. This research paper will also be published in the proceedings of the Midwest Academy of Legal Studies in Business journal after passing a double-blind peer-review process, which we are immensely proud of. Our research paper is under consideration for publication in the Midwest Law Journal and expect a decision in the coming months as well.
Learning Outcomes, Reflection, Dr. Magaldi
Initially this research started for me as a way to explore a topic that I felt was completely under-recognized. This exploration was born out of frustration and a desire for answers that I could not seem to find anywhere else. Having to dig for the answers we needed was a driving force because it only made us want to find them even more, and many of the times pushed us to ask new questions that had not yet been considered. Working with Dr. Magaldi added to my research experience in many ways. She is not only incredibly knowledgeable in law, but also as an academic she made it clear what was expected from me at every step along the way and even helped to have my work submitted to a law conference, which I would not have believed could be possible at the beginning of this research. We met weekly to keep each other updated on our thoughts and progress as well as communicating through email when we saw articles or news that was relevant to our work. The greatest motivator for me was knowing that at the end of this project we would have an answer, or at least the start of an answer, to a question that many people are asking, and to be able to work hard to reach that goal was a motivating goal.
Future Plans for Collaboration
Though I am graduating in May 2019, Dr. Magaldi and I hope to continue our work together on this research before I begin my applications to law school.
So much of this research project has been centered around specifying exactly what it is that we want our research to be about and since my last blog post I feel that we have finally realized our question.
Our research has moved into and will continue to focus on what suggestions or possible solutions are achievable for the President in regards to social media usage. So much of this research is uncharted because both social media, and an abuse of media communications by the seated president is a new territory of the law. Because of this the research has required a lot of focus and motivation in regards to sorting through existing research and using what is found to better focus the research question. Communication between Dr. Magaldi and I has been great. We have been meeting weekly to discuss research progress and I think that those meetings have kept both me and the research focused. From the beginning I knew that I wanted to explore the question of what standards needed to be changed or procedures implemented for presidential social media and Dr. Magaldi has helped me recognize the surrounding factors that need to be considered.
As expected the biggest challenge with this research is a lack of existing research to go off of. Not much work has been done to explore how presidential media protocols have changed or developed since the introduction of social media to the White House. Similarly, because there is not much research to go off of there is also the freedom to explore my own beliefs about what should be done, which is daunting because of the potential weight that these suggestions may carry. Similarly, because I do not formally know the law to the extent that professors or lawyers might, I am not familiar with what suggestions are realistic, so a lot of my research that still needs to be conducted surrounds the legal aspect of understanding potential presidential social media legislation. I have learned a lot about what President Trump’s administration is doing, or at least claiming to do, in regards to the President’s social media archival in response to the Presidential Records Act. I have also learned about standards for past presidential media usage which will be beneficial in understanding whether my suggested legislation should reflect the current President’s media usage or be more of a reflection on the media itself.
So far our progress has been focused primarily on research around what legislation currently exists in regards to recordation of presidential documents. A significant amount of the focus has been around the Presidential Records Act, which is the primary legislation regarding documentation of the president’s communications. We have also started to move into research surrounding Twitter as an electronic communication medium, which has different protocols, accessibility, and reach than the more traditional presidential communications methods such as radio or television appearances. The biggest problem that we have encountered is that the majority of research or work done that explicitly pertains to this topic is not scholarly, but more online opinion pieces based on some facts. Our research has had to have a broader scope to take into consideration all of the different factors that play into presidential records of social media posts. With that in mind, it can sometimes feel that I am drowning in information that’s not directly relevant to the paper, but with the broader vision of what this piece is trying to address and how multifaceted it is, it becomes easier to recognize the value in each bit of research.
Communication with Dr. Magaldi has been fantastic. She is very quick to respond to my inquiries and often reaches out to me with feedback and foresight so that I am always on top of what should be edited or prepared for. Because Dr. Magaldi is so knowledgeable and has more experience than me in both the law and academic writing, it can at times be intimidating to have such an expert on my team, but it is also incredibly reassuring to know that I can turn to her for guidance and support. Initially my ideas for what this paper would address were vague and I feared getting bogged down in the content of President Trump’s tweets because it can feel impossible to know where to start with them. Dr. Magaldi reassured me that there are approaches we can take that do not have a central focus on the Twitter content, but instead focus on the bigger behaviors and patterns President Trump has created for himself on Twitter, so a significant amount of research has gone into both content analysis of the tweets and also understanding President Trump’s Twitter usage on a broader scale. We are planning to continue our current research path, and will soon begin looking at the ways Trump’s Twitter usage differs from President Obama’s.
The working title of my research project is “Assessing the Impact of the “Twitter President” on the Record of History Made by the Presidential Records Act.” The goal of Professor Magaldi and my’s research is to understand how President Trump’s use of Twitter through his control of two seperate accounts during his presidency has been affected by the existing Presidential Records Act. The most important question I hope for this research to provide an answer to, is whether the Presidential Records Act, in its current form, provides enough structure to moderate presidential use of social media. Determining the ways in which the Presidential Records Act does not reflect the presidential modes of communication during the social media age provides a basis for understanding how the Presidential Records Act can be amended to be comprehensive of the mediums the Presidents may use. The end goal of this research, outside of presenting at the Midwest Academy of Legal Studies in Business Conference in Chicago in March 2019, would be to have a comprehensive examination of the Presidential Records Act and President Trump’s Twitter usage as a means of encouraging congress to take action towards either amending the Presidential Records Act to capture presidential social media accounts or creating new legislature that moderates and records the President’s online content.
I will be conducting a significant amount of research on the Presidential Records Act and how it came to be in its current form. I will also be looking into the way past presidents have utilized different media forms as a means of communicating with the public. Understanding how past presidents have used media to communicate will provide a better understanding of what makes social media different than past mediums. I will also be looking specifically at presidential use of Twitter. Although that will only include President Obama, understanding how he formatted his Twitter use will provide a standard for which to compare to how President Trump uses Twitter. Through conducting research on these different elements of the Presidential Records Act, past media use, and a comparison of presidential media will provide the basis for understanding whether the PRA is adequate as social media has become a major communications medium. I plan to conduct a significant amount of literary research to understand how the Presidential Records Act and social media are already viewed in relation to one another. Given that this subject is fairly new, I understand that a lot of my sources will need to paint a larger picture as opposed to being directly related to my research. My hope is that through examining enough sources, I will have a strong understanding of whether President Trump’s use of Twitter warrants stronger legislature surrounding Presidential use of social media.