Theresa May right to tackle Donald Trump over Twitter

PUBLISHED: 14:36 01 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:36 01 December 2017

Prime minister Theresa May said president Donald Trump's retweets of far-right group Britain First were

Prime minister Theresa May said president Donald Trump's retweets of far-right group Britain First were "wrong"

PA Archive/PA Images

At exactly 9.50pm Pacific Standard Time on March 21, 2006 an event that would come to have reaching consequence for world politics and beyond took place.

“Just setting up my twttr” was the first ever micro-blog published on the now ubiquitous social media platform Twitter.

The author of that rather uninspiring tweet was Jack Dorsey. Back then he was a student. Now he is the multi-billionaire CEO of Twitter.

When he pressed send he could not have dreamed of the impact his idea would have. Although the world of celebrity and business were quick to adopt the medium politicians, not known for their grasp of technology or trends, were at first resistant.

Perhaps the first time Twitter came to the attention of many politicians was when Barack Obama’s campaign team embraced the tool – along with Facebook – to win the White House in 2008.

Its initial usage as a promotional tool began to morph and the tech savvy realised Twitter could be very powerful. It was also very democratic – anyone could say anything at the touch of a button.

By December 2010 it had also become a way of organising – protests, riots and even revolutions.

The Arab Spring – the revolutionary wave that swept North Africa and the Middle East – was declared the Twitter Revolution. Although hashtags – a way of grouping messages together – were used the voracity of the claims about Twitter being directly involved in the successful deposing of several tyrants remains disputed.

Twitter’s inception and growth will no doubt be mentioned in 100 years when historians pore over the early 21st century. But perhaps even more significant than that first message back in 2006 will be the one sent in March 2009 by Donald Trump promoting an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Although many of those first tweets by Mr Trump were probably crafted by his marketing team there can be no doubt now that it is The Donald who fires off the rants and raves.

He has more than 100m followers across the three main social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook and Instgram – and he certainly keeps them on their toes.

Let us not beat about the bush on Mr Trump – he is brash, outrageous and impulsive. He is vain and mendacious, provocative and narcissistic. And Twitter – with its instant gratification of likes and retweets – rewards these characteristics. Social media hasn’t created a monster, but it has certainly helped.

Often the tweets published by Mr Trump have raised a smile – often of confusion and even embarrassment. But since taking office something rather more worrying has occurred: Twitter diplomacy – not that Mr Trump’s tweets could be described as diplomatic.

And this week he reached an all-time low after retweeting three messages from anti-Islamic rabble Britain First. But that might just be the beginning of this story.

The condemnation came quickly and in a show of some strength – where did that come from? – Theresa May said it was “wrong” for the president to have retweeted the group. The PM had to act because Britain First has already caused concern in Westminster and faces being added to the list of outlawed terror organisations in this country.

Mr Trump’s churlish and aggressive tweet in response, aimed at Mrs May, has caused significant damage. One government source said the “anger was palpable” and in Washington the officials’ “embarrassment was obvious”.

Many commentators scoff at the ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK and the US claiming the admiration flows mainly one way – towards the States. But that is not strictly true.

Britain and America have deep cultural links and a shared recent history of fighting and defeating oppression. And, with Brexit approaching, the government would like to beef up our trading links.

But Mrs May was right to admonish Mr Trump and not simply dismiss it as “Donald being Donald”. Terrorism and extremism can come in many forms. All of them must be tackled.

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