If you haven’t heard about the moody, orange Cheeto slouching in the oval office munching on a fillet-o’-fish, you probably don’t have a Twitter account.
Despite our tiny-handed oompaloompa being the most openly despised man on the planet, one thing he does not lack is attention – which he invariably enjoys nearly as much as casual racism. Did you think the Kardashians were the queens of social media? Trump is discussed on Twitter ten times more than the entire family combined and we know he fucking loves it.
That’s the shortcoming of quantitative social media analysis: it measures hits and tends to ignore the actual content of a Tweet or post. Even sentiment analysis, which is designed to efficiently measure whether posts containing a particular keyword or hashtag contain positive or negative messages, only offers moderate accuracy.
This means our overgrown carrot always gets what he wants on social media: attention; regardless of sentiment. He doesn’t seem to care too greatly what is said about him, as long as it gets him trending – and that’s how some have said he manipulated social media to win the US presidency.
"This means our overgrown carrot always gets what he wants on social media: attention; regardless of sentiment."
You might think the only alternative is to not mention Trump at all online, but that would be hugely problematic and borderline self-censorship. However, there’s another way. You could try a technique known as 'Voldemorting'.
We know Voldemort as the snake-like antagonist whose man-hunt for a child named Harry Potter spawned seven books, a film franchise and a theme park. But the relevance of a man whose name enacted such fear in society – and in fact in the seventh novel was used as a taboo to track down his opposition – has been extended to social media communication by a social media academic, Emily van der Nagel.
Almost the entire wizarding world avoided using Voldemort’s name in their everyday speech, instead opting for “He Who Must Not Be Named”. Despite the vagueness of this label, all of society understood to whom it referred.
This is where Van der Nagel’s use of the term ‘Voldemorting’ in social media communication comes in. Tweets containing keywords such as “Trump” give the President the attention he seeks. Tweets containing keywords such as “45” (a reference to Trump being America’s 45th President) or “Cheeto” (need I explain?) do not. Yet these codewords operate in the same way as “He Who Must Not Be Named” does in the Harry Potter universe: it’s simple to determine who the nickname refers to.
This allows the broader public to discuss and debate American politics without adding fuel to the fire that Trump relies on. The communication is the same, but ol’ Donald doesn’t necessarily receive the same ego-boost and social media hits as he does when communications feature his name.
Of course, Voldemorting must be a dynamic process; once Trump’s media analysts catch on to the “Cheeto” trend (which I’m sure they have already), they’ll add that keyword to their analytic software. Activists and dissenters must then formulate new terms and the cycle will continue; it's like a game of cat and mouse.
Nevertheless, the Voldemorting process hugely disrupts keyword analysis.
Internet wordplay is also a tool to bypass online censorship. Shortly after International Women’s Day in 2018, the Chinese government shut down several women’s liberation groups online, seeing them as a threat to China’s communist structure. After Chinese feminists jumped on board the #MeToo train via Weibo, the platform blocked the hashtag.
These women found their way around the block, however, using wordplay. The Chinese words for “rice” and “bunny” are “mi” and “tu’ respectively. Therefore #RiceBunny, as well as illustrative emojis, were used to spread the same message without alerting authorities or algorithms on the watch for dissent.
So next time you’re tweeting about America’s cancerous back mole, try to do it without using his name. God knows he doesn’t need any more attention than he already has.
Claire is Hogwarts aficionado who will stalk your social media account to find your star sign as soon as she meets you. When she's not re-reading Harry Potter for the zillionth time or meddling in some casual witchcraft, you can find her thinking aloud on Twitter @silent_claire.