Like so many other Fox News devotees in search of new voids to shout into, Donald Trump loves to tweet. He also, though, happily shares his account with at least one staffer. So how do we know when the most-mad-online president in human history is actually tapping out his own material? Fortunately for us, Trump is a creature of habit, and he’s got some tells.
In the early days, all it took to figure out whether a tweet came from Trump himself was to peek at the source device. (You can check easily in TweetDeck.) If the tweet came from an Android phone, Trump’s own fingers almost certainly tapped it out, since the rest of his staff used iPhones. After assuming the office of the presidency, though, Trump had to replace his Android with a specially designed iPhone that contains the Twitter app and little else.
In addition to almost guaranteeing our eventual total annihilation by allowing Trump’s Twitter habit to continue, the device switch means we have to look for other ways to figure out when the tweets come straight from Trump. This proved particularly challenging during version one of the Trump administration, when press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and alt-right interpreter Steve Bannon all had yet to be ousted. Along with advisor Kellyanne Conway, they all likely took a spin on Trump’s Twitter account at some point.
Now, though, with Trump’s more trusted advisors working on the outside and White House chief of staff John Kelly trying to minimize chaos, we can have relative confidence that each Trump tweet goes one of two ways: Either he wrote it, or caddy-turned-White-House-social-media director Dan Scavino did.
Scavino and Trump likely aren’t the only people with direct access to the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. (It would make sense for White House communications director Hope Hicks, for instance, to have a log-in for emergency deletion purposes.) But those are the only two people we definitively know to tweet from the account. A Scavino profile in Politico in June noted that he has Trump’s voice nailed, and is “constantly recording content for online videos.”
Fortunately, thanks to a constant stream of palace intrigue stories and an unhealthy level of observation, it’s not too hard to figure out who’s who. Want to know when a tweet’s not from Trump himself? Follow these tells.
There’s More Than Just Text
Though he may be adept (enough) at Twitter, Trump isn’t known for being tech savvy. About two years ago, The New York Times noted that Trump “has no computer in his office (a staff member brings in a laptop to show him videos) and asks aides to print his emails for consumption the old-fashioned way.” This means that any time you see an image or video attached to one of Trump’s tweets, our good friend Dan was almost certainly the mastermind.
It’s not just multimedia, though—pretty much anything requiring more than an @-symbol puts the tweet firmly in Scavino territory. The social media director’s recent slip-up, in which he accidentally tweeted from his account instead of Trump’s, would seem to confirm as much. Note the hashtag usage.
my man dan scavino getting sloppy over here pic.twitter.com/jgCgdZPfmn
— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) October 4, 2017
Did Donald do the tweet? If the tweet consists of nothing but words and the occasional @-mention, Donald Trump probably did the tweet.
It’s Not 6 AM
About a month before election day, The New York Times revealed that Trump generally dictated tweets to his assistants during the work day, but would send out his own missives during down time. According to a different report from Trump’s first weeks in the White House, at around 6:30 pm he generally heads back to the residence to mainline cable news until sometime after midnight. So it’s relatively safe to assume that any text-only tweets coming out of @realDonaldTrump in the evening (assuming, of course, he’s not off at a rally) were typed by the man himself.
The morning, however, is when Donald Trump truly shines. Usually up by around 6 am ET or so, the president can often get a good three or four hours of Fox News under his belt before he has to go pretend to listen to the daily intelligence briefing at 10. That’s when we get gems like this.
James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Or even this.
The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist,Al-Baghdadi.Their sick agenda over National Security
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017
Did Donald do the tweet? If it’s text-only and sent between 6 pm and 10 am, Donald Trump probably did the tweet.
It’s Suspiciously Typo-Free
There’s no question that Trump likes to play it fast and loose with his keyboard. His “covfefe” tweet is perhaps the most famous example, but his persistent inability to spell common words provides more than enough proof.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Scavino, by contrast, usually seems to manage at least one final proofread before hitting send.
Which isn’t to say that Scavino is infallible. Despite a job description that consists entirely of not screwing up on social media, he’s made his share of mistakes. His latest slip-up happened during Hurricane Irma, as Scavino frantically tweeted out of second-hand videos of the storm. Apparently, anonymous Twitter users indiscriminately tweeting out videos to take advantage of hashtags don’t always rigorously fact-check their claims. Scavino, in his race against no one and for no real reason, fell into the same trap.
In picking up one particularly gnarly storm video, the White House director of social media and assistant to the president did a fake news of his own.
It wasn’t Miami International Airport, nor was it even from that same week. The airport’s official account eventually swooped in to correct the now-deleted tweet.
All of which admittedly doesn’t tell us much about who is writing Trump’s tweets, but it is a very funny story that everyone should tell as often as possible.
Did Donald do the tweet? If it looks like it was written by the Flowers for Algernon guy after the meds start wearing off, Donald Trump probably did the tweet.
The Tweet Is Threaded
Donald Trump does not know how to thread his tweets. He certainly seems to understand that it’s a thing people do, since at some point over the last year, he started using ellipses to indicate that he wasn’t quite done yet.
…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Trump does not, however, seem to know that replying to his own tweets would connect his thoughts in chronological order for him, which makes for some incredible disembodied half-thoughts.
Scavino has a knack for adopting Trump’s latest mannerisms, though, and the ellipses is no different. That’s why the real tell is the threading—Scavino can’t bring himself to not take advantage of the site’s features.
Did Donald do the tweet? If the tweetstorm consists of a series of disconnected nonsense, Donald Trump probably did the tweet.
It’s a Retweet
Here’s where it gets tricky. Donald Trump used to constantly retweet admirers by copying the original tweet, pasting it into his own tweet, and popping an “RT” in front. He hasn’t done this since April of 2016. At some point, someone must have taught him how to retweet the correct way, which is how people found this tweet from @Fuctupmind in their feeds one morning.
— Mike (@Fuctupmind) September 14, 2017
The retweets, though, come at all times of the day, and often include retweets of Dan Scavino’s own tweets, making it hard to tell whether Trump or Scavino is the more likely culprit. The White House, too, has yet to acknowledge who triggered any of the many controversial retweets that come out of @realDonaldTrump. Time of day is probably a good indicator here, but also, who really knows? Life is full of mysteries.
Did Donald do the (re)tweet? Dealer’s choice, baby.
Will this knowledge save us when Trump inevitably triggers a nuclear war after slipping on a banana peel while trying to DM @foxandfriends? Not in the slightest. But at least we’ll know who to blame.