If you want to know the real President Donald Trump, don't waste your time following @POTUS.
On Inauguration Day, Trump was handed the reins to the official @POTUS Twitter account. But the handle reserved for one of the most powerful political figures in the world wasn't enough for the Donald: He continues to tweet from his personal account, @realDonaldTrump, which has 21.8 million followers to @POTUS' 14.3 million.
A cursory overview of both accounts tells a tale of two very different people. So, which are we meant to believe? Which message is more authentic? And how can we tell if a tweet represents the real Trump, rather than his handlers?
Throughout his campaign, Trump's Twitter was both a liability and an asset. Trump found he could command the news cycle with just 140 characters, and his off-the-cuff, no-holds-barred rants — sometimes at 3 a.m. — endeared him to an anti-establishment voter base. Meanwhile, Trump's critics worried that he could cause a company's stock value to drop, incite violence against his enemies and young women or even start a nuclear war.
With the @POTUS account, which is managed by Trump's staffers, the president seems to be making an attempt to appear more presidential, stay on message and refrain from making personal attacks.
Compare the two tweets below:
But here's where it gets more complicated. Tweets from @realDonaldTrump also suggest two different voices, as the New York Times pointed out. Some posts are modest announcements and updates, while others take shots at former President Barack Obama's achievements. What's authentically Trump?
Uncovering the authentic Trump tweets
David Robinson, a data scientist at Stack Overflow who previously conducted a text analysis of Trump's tweets, advises anyone looking for authentic messages to search only for his Android tweets — the ones most likely discharged from Trump's brain.
In August, Robinson analyzed the differences between Trump's Android and iOS tweets and determined they were likely sent by separate people. To put it bluntly, Trump writes "the angrier ones," as the Washington Post noted last summer.
While "iPhone tweets tend to be benign announcements and pictures," Robinson wrote, the negative, aggressive, hyperbolic messages tend to come from Trump's Samsung Galaxy.
"Those tell a somewhat hypnotic story of his personality because they are a stream of consciousness," Robinson told Mic. "Very few links, very few retweets of anyone and very few pictures, basically no hashtags. It really is his thoughts and he's been using his account like that for many years. You can go back years and years and years and see the things he wanted to express himself. That is the raw, unadulterated form of Donald Trump."
So, how can you tell which messages are straight from Trump — or at least typed by him? You'll need a third-party Twitter client. TweetDeck is the best bet: Simply click on a tweet using the app to reveal the source.
Yet these unfiltered messages are appearing less and less. Why?
A changing social media strategy
"I've got 46 million people right now — that's really a lot — including Facebook, Twitter and ya know, Instagram," he said. "I'd rather just let that build up and just keep it @realDonaldTrump. It's working."
And at an inaugural ball Friday, Trump asked the crowd, "... should I keep the Twitter going or not? Keep it going? I think so. I think so. ... You know, the enemies keep saying, 'Oh, that's terrible,' but it's a way of bypassing dishonest media, right?"
On Jan. 15, the New York Times reported that some of Trump's aides and security officials "urged" him to ditch @realDonaldTrump and tweet exclusively on the @POTUS account. It appears Trump has so far ignored those suggestions.
Additionally, staff members replaced Trump's Android with an encrypted device. It's possible he's using it: An encrypted Android will still show up as an Android in TweetDeck.
Who's really controlling Trump's tweets — and why we should be wary
The @POTUS account bio explicitly notes that unless signed "-DJT," tweets are sent by Dan Scavino, Trump's director of social media. Scavino has a history of tweeting fraudulent right-wing and pro-Trump stories; as a result, readers ought to scrutinize his @POTUS messages carefully.
Of the handful of tweets fired off by @POTUS to date, only one is seemingly posted by Trump himself. A post identical to one tweeted by @realDonaldTrump went up on the @POTUS account about 22 minutes later, signaling Trump's preferential treatment toward his longtime swarm of followers.
The second and only other tweet sent from the @POTUS account signed by "-DJT" raises some skepticism as to whether Trump's sign-off should be taken at face value. The tweet in question includes both a Twitter Moment and a geotag of the White House — two practices Trump has never used on his personal account.
Perhaps he's dictating his messages to his team of handlers — or maybe he's trusted an aide to speak for him. It's also possible his social media team is feeding him messages to tweet from his personal account — such as a tweet supporting "peaceful protests" sent from @realDonaldTrump after one ridiculing the women's march.
An expert's analysis of Trump's social media strategy: "There's a consistent void between reality and what this guy thinks"
"Is he going to mouth off about things that are insane? Sure," Matt Canter, senior vice president at Global Strategy Group and a former top official at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a phone interview. "Are people around him going to try and contain him? I don't know, maybe, or maybe sometimes they'll pick their battles."
Canter brought up the rumor that Trump takes to Twitter to say "crazy things" on Friday nights and Saturday mornings while his daughter Ivanka observes Shabbat. "She's the one who keeps him contained," Canter said. (We reached out to the White House and will update with any response.)
Canter brought up the rumor that Trump takes to Twitter to say "crazy things" on Friday nights and Saturday mornings while his daughter Ivanka observes Shabbat. "She's the one who keeps him contained."
It's too early to tell how the @POTUS account might evolve (or degenerate) over time — but if the first batch of tweets and retweets are any indication, it'll involve a more sophisticated social strategy, possibly with a lot more media. We may see fewer ad hominem attacks, taunts and threats, and virtually nonexistent input from the president himself.
"Anything that is not an Android tweet, maybe [Trump] approved it, but it's certainly not notable from his perspective," Robinson said.
But followers should stay alert for false claims. "There's no question that there's a consistent void between reality and what this guy thinks and that'll be true in his Twitter account," Canter said.
"Donald Trump is trying to create his own media with his Twitter feed, but I think that is wrong," he added. "I would say that the public should distrust it and should not fall victim to its lure."