How Tweets Spread Across Television News: Tracing Trump's "Looting Starts Shooting Starts" Tweet

One of the most remarkable aspects of Donald Trump's Twitter account is the way in which he is able to set the media agenda. A single tweet from him can instantly shift the media narrative for days and is treated as a presidential statement rather than a mere post on a social media platform.

Take Trump's "when the looting starts the shooting starts" tweet. The tweet was reproduced as-is in tweet form across television news, with BBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News displaying it onscreen credited to his Twitter account for a combined total of 1,798 seconds of airtime. Viewers see what amounts to a screen capture of his tweets.

Yet his tweets are also often treated as presidential statement as if he had spoken the words in an interview with a journalist and simply credited to "Donald Trump". Searching for just the text of his "looting shooting" tweet without requiring his Twitter handle to be displayed yields a much larger count of 4,125 seconds of airtime, including the examples seen above. In each of these examples, his quote is simply attributed to "Donald Trump" or merely "Trump" without reference to his Twitter handle.

Across the four channels his tweet was displayed onair for nearly 69 minutes over the following days. In short, a single presidential tweet yielded 69 minutes of it being displayed in the onscreen text and untold additional hours being debated and discussed.