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Trump’s Twitter Keeps Exploiting the Same Psychological Quirk—And It Works

Sad!

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Donald Trump is literally a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Like most sports entertainment greats—The Rock and his Rock Bottom, Steve Austin and his Stunner—The President is known for a signature finishing move.

At the end of the Trumpiest tweets, you know it’s coming: Sad!

The crowd, reliably, goes wild—with either outrage or applause.

And now we know (at least partly) why.

According to new analysis in the super-prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ending a tweet with something like “sad!” has a way of making it super shareable.

The research team, led by New York University psychologist William J. Brady, analyzed over half a million tweets concerning hot-button issues like climate change, gun control and same-sex marriage.

The tweets were split up depending on the tone of their language. Some were moral (tweets mentioning “duty”), some were emotional (“fear”), and others were both (“hate”). Just being moral or emotional didn’t do much for virality, Ben Popper notes at The Verge, but doing both worked wonders—yielding a 20 percent increase in retweets.

It’s consistent with research from last year suggesting that viral posts are the ones that make you feel big emotions, like anger.

Mr. Trump, of course, has a gift for that kind of vitriol, pairing moral outrage and heated emotions as readily as he adds ketchup to well-done steaks. He’s like a sommelier, but for shareable outrage.

Trump knows his gift for social media. “I think it helped me win all of these races where they’re spending much more money than I spent,” he told 60 Minutes after the election.

The bad news for us news consumers is that we can expect even more of this moralizing fan-flaming from public figures. “It seems likely that politicians, community leaders, and organizers of social movements express moral emotions … in an effort to increase message exposure and to influence perceived norms within social networks,” Brady and his team write. “Our work suggests that such efforts might pay off.” 

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