When the White House claps back: Is the official Twitter tone part of Biden's shifting approach?
The White House traded in its infographics and press release tweets last month, opting to go after Republican critics of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.
In a series of tweets, the White House’s Twitter account quote-tweeted several Republican members of Congress with the amount forgiven for their own Paycheck Protection Program loans, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida.
Twitter imploded with mixed reactions to tweets, with many on the social media platform praising the Biden White House for its unprecedented response, and curious about its sudden shift in tone.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven.https://t.co/4FoCymt8TB
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 25, 2022
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A dose of Jersey
Just a month before, Megan Coyne, the former social media director for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, joined the White House as deputy director of platforms. During her time in her home state, Coyne co-developed and ran the official New Jersey state Twitter account, best known for its sarcasm and witty defense of the Garden State.
Many attributed the White House's now-viral tweet threads to Coyne, including Murphy's speechwriter Derek Roseman, who shared that he was "still mad" that Coyne left the Murphy administration, but was "so happy" that she did.
Coyne acknowledged on her own account the success of the White House tweets, sharing a screenshot of the White House as the No. 1 trending Twitter topic with a simple smiley face.
— Megan Coyne (@megancoyne23) August 26, 2022
Coyne joining the White House and the subsequent shift in tone suggests the administration was encouraged to better leverage social media platforms, said Raji Srinivasan, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“A lot of individuals are on Twitter and engaging with Twitter aggressively, and before this happened, I would see the White House hardly (getting) any follows and now there’s interest,” Srinivasan said. “You’re playing the game how it ought to be played and not with a 1970s public relations and media strategy.”
The White House and Coyne did not return requests for comment.
While the White House’s tweets became a consequential moment on Twitter, launching it to the top of the U.S. Twitter trends, the administration is following a well-trodden path.
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Sir, this is a Wendy's
The Murphy administration and fast-food chain Wendy’s were among the early organizations and brand accounts to develop a personality, of sorts, with a mixture of snark and combativeness that played well on social media. In the decade since, other brands and organizations have taken similar approaches, said Ike Silver, a marketing professor at Northwestern University.
“That is sort of a break from the norms that you might have expected to see from these sorts of entities in the past,” Silver added. “Typically, you think of governments and corporations as being fairly buttoned up and professional, but in a variety of ways, this is sort of a break from that.”
The New Jersey state Twitter account is a collection of informative, policy driven tweets, memes and “your mom” jokes, including in 2019, when a user questioned the existence of the @NJGOV account.
your mom https://t.co/e1VFKac4YR
— New Jersey (@NJGov) December 6, 2019
More recently, @NJGov used the trending images of actor Chris Pine looking exasperated during the Venice Film Festival to respond to a user denying the existence of climate change.
— New Jersey (@NJGov) September 7, 2022
A growing number of organizations and companies, including government accounts, have worked on developing their own social media presence as a way to optimize marketing that targets younger consumers, signal authenticity and attempt to go viral to reach a wider audience, Silver said.
“We like organizations to be authentic and there is something about being willing to break norms, be a little raw, be a little bit unpolished that is very much associated with being authentic," Silver told USA TODAY.
Now, we see it across the board.
The Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation included a pop culture reference about actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s dating habits in the agency's tweet about the lifespan of native fish species in the state, causing the agency's account to receive thousands more likes and retweets than their past tweets.
Many of the native fish species found in Oklahoma's waters have long lifespans. In fact, in late May 2019, an Oklahoma angler caught a 66lb female smallmouth buffalo fish that was estimated to be 62 years old. That's a whole 37 years past being eligible to date Leonardo DiCaprio.
— Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (@OKWildlifeDept) September 1, 2022
And Netflix used images of actress Sandra Bullock from "Miss Congeniality" as a meme to describe Labor Day weekend.
The start of this long weekend vs. the end of this long weekend pic.twitter.com/YTtT3zRCjA
— Netflix (@netflix) September 5, 2022
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'Dark Brandon' in the White House
While the thread of tweets were unexpected from the Biden White House, it was just another example of the administration's shifting tone evident in recent speeches and press conferences, especially in reference to former President Donald Trump, his acolytes and far-right Republican members of Congress.
The Biden administration's co-option of "Dark Brandon," a meme depicting the sitting president as an all-powerful presence that emerged from the Republican base's intended insult of "Let's go Brandon," is among the examples of the Biden administration cultivating a different approach to appeal to younger, more social-media engaged voters, Srinivasan said.
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Biden's alter ego reemerges every couple of weeks, usually after the president has managed to push forward significant pieces of his legislative agenda or has made striking comments, as he did over a series of recent speeches, including during a rally in the Washington suburbs accusing Republicans of "semi-fascism."
"The administration is, I think, in a moment where one of their communication goals is to really point out what they see as the hypocrisy on the right and the danger of what they see as anti-democratic elected leaders," said Shannon McGregor, a professor in journalism and media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I think that means they are more on the offensive than they have been previously."
Biden continued with that same tone during his primetime speech in Philadelphia on Aug. 29, where he slammed the "extreme MAGA Republicans" led by Trump, drawing a distinct image of the type of country America could become if Trump's acolytes are elected.
"MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards – backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love," Biden said as he continues to embrace his more aggressive tone as the county inches closer to the midterm elections.
McGregor notes the possibility that several recent factors could be reasons for the administration's aggressive approach and tweets, including Biden's string of legislative successes, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and growing momentum around the coming midterm elections.
"You could see why the administration would want to be both on the offensive but also feel that the moment is with them to act like that and to communicate like that," McGregor added.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who runs White House Twitter account? Biden brings on Jersey veteran