Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Professor John J. Pitney

Rights Information

© 2021 Natalie C Gould


This thesis began as an exploration into Donald Trump’s Twitter use in the final year of his presidency, starting with his first (and at the time, only) impeachment and ending with the November 2020 election. As an incumbent running for re-election, Donald Trump broke from precedent by opting out of the traditional messaging strategy of expanding his base and promoting unity and instead focused on energizing his existing supporters. Throughout his campaign and presidency, his Trumpian-style of rhetoric which perpetuated an “us versus them” mentality resulted in threats and real violence by his supporters.

The role of social media has grown tremendously in the past decade, and has shifted political messaging as a result. While traditional media had a structure to fact-check stories, social media allows for the constant sharing of oversimplified ideas. With Trump’s massive Twitter following, he was able to engage in tweet-storms on any given subject, no matter how accurate the content of his messages were. Social media companies frequently rebuffed calls to increase the policing and accountability of Trump’s accounts. But in 2020, they were faced with a challenge: a sitting president actively challenged the integrity of a national election. Twitter decided to fact-check his tweets, which helped limit the spread of disinformation. However, these labels were not enough to overcome the circulation of lies that the election was stolen, bolstered by Trump and other Republicans across the country. By comparing the escalation of violence with the online messaging between November 2020 and January 2021, I conclude that Trump’s repeated claims that his supporters must “stop the steal” and fight for the country led directly to the kind of violence we witnessed on January 6th.