Right Twitter’s political style

Ariel Stulberg
The Opposite of Post-truth
5 min readMay 11, 2017

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Warning: This post focuses on conservatives, and I suggest that much of what’s highlighted is bad. If that’s irredeemably biased in your view, you probably won’t like this post. But, I’m here to understand, not to mock.

There exists an ecosystem of conservatives on Twitter passionately advocating for their cause to tens and hundreds of thousands of followers every day.

These unsung foot soldiers of the Trump movement churn out colorful, rousing, extremely-extreme Twitter content most of the day, every day. They react to every story and push consistent themes. They bash and troll unrelentingly at the hated Left and liberals. They echo one another, amplify other conservative media, and lead pile-ons against people who disagree.

This post will be the first in a series studying the phenomenon. It’s superficial, a look at the outward face of this world. It will attempt to convey Right Twitter’s aesthetic and systematically understand their tactics.

Future installments will focus on the people involved, the economics, parallels to non-political social media marketing, and other such deep stuff.

The screenshots were taken on March 1st, 2017. I searched posts on my own personal “Conservatives” list on Twitter, as well as on the #tcot (Top Conservatives of Twitter) and #maga (Make America Great Again) hashtags.

I focused on well-shared posts from large accounts. All that is biased to one degree or another. It’s also probably fair to say I selected these to highlight the specific points I wanted to make.

What we’re talking about

Right Twitter are not journalists, political commentators, ex-officials or any other classic political player. They aren’t obviously affiliated with the Republican party, or in most cases, with any organization.

On the surface — and that’s as far as I’ve gone — they appear to be self-starting social media entrepreneurs. And successful ones.

The accounts highlighted here have followers counts of roughly 50,000–200,000.

That’s a lot less than Beyonce (almost 15 million). It’s not as many as political household names such as John McCain (2.2 million), or leading Twitter-savvy TV reporters such as Jake Tapper (1 million).

To imagine comparable accounts, think of elite journalists and commentators from the world of print: Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol (139,000), New York Times columnist David Brooks (120,000), New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait (119,000), FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten (84,600), and New York Times Magazine national correspondent Mark Leibovich (48,200).

These people are high achievers. Matching the size of their audience is no small thing.

Aesthetics principles and technique

The overall theme is emphatic, aggressive support for the Trump agenda and ridicule of its perceived enemies. Their techniques are all about psychological impact: a very highs volume of posts and the frequent use of meme images, hashtags, emojis, capital letters, and over-the-top, troll-ish insults.

They seem generally aimed at exciting and mobilizing movement members or shaming other conservatives to join the movement. Convincing the opposition doesn’t seem like a high priority.

Emotional, identitarian approach to argument

Perhaps for that reason, logic and evidence really aren’t a big part of it. Not only are false statements fairly common, but even best information practices are ignored. Very few Right Twitter posts include links to news stories. Rather, they have photos of the headline. If you want to check the statement, you have to Google it and find it yourself.

Instead they focus on shared totems of Right Wing, either focused on traditional values and group camaraderie, or more often, mutual hatred of the opposition.

A recurring theme is highlighting members of the usually vilified groups — black people, Muslims, Latinos, “former liberals,” — defending Right Wing or Trumpist positions.

Like Fox plus 4chan, with more hashtags

To some extent, this is an extension of right-wing meme culture in general. A similar approach to politics can be found among like-minded people on Instagram, Reddit, 4chan, 8chan and probably more I’ve never heard of.

Their rhetoric and political lines seem to float downstream in either from the Trump campaign, from Right Wing media, or from the organs of the alt-Right.

But, they add a Twitter marketing component. They aim for virality and constantly boost one another’s efforts to that end. They use hashtags, some of which are organized mutual help efforts to amplify their messages.

I don’t yet have a good idea to what degree any of this is organized. If it is, it’s impressive, and If not, I’d be surprised if an organized campaign could do any better.

Some accounts show what seem like clear signs of automation, such as regular, scheduled posts, and frequent self-retweeting.

But many others, I can personally attest, are people who will directly engage when you respond to them. Their followers will engage you too. That engagement can get pretty salty, as I’ve written elsewhere.

What does it all mean?

Who are all these people? How much influence do they have? Who are their followers? What are the economics behind this, if any? Who’s making all these memes? Are there Russian people involved?

I don’t know yet. Watch these pages for more.

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