Before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo finished his daily coronavirus press briefing on Friday afternoon, his remarks had elicited a sharply critical tweet from President Donald Trump. That came hours after Trump had sent a series of tweets calling to “LIBERATE” Virginia, Minnesota, and Michigan — all states led by Democratic governors.
In a newly released interview, taped on March 16, Recode co-founder and newly appointed New York Magazine Editor-at-Large Kara Swisher called Trump an “epic troll,” saying his use of Twitter (TWTR) to spread misinformation has hampered the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak and put lives at risk.
“It’s a dangerous tool in his hands,” she says of Trump, who has 77.4 million followers on the platform. “This whole crisis has sort of been a backlash to that.”
“It’s fascinating how badly he’s handled Twitter during this crisis,” she adds. “I think people don’t like falsehoods, you know, his political attacks are one thing but this is people’s lives. And when he’s lying about actual science, it’s a problem.”
‘Very much under control’
Trump spread a number of false or misleading statements on Twitter in recent weeks. On Feb. 24, he tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” On that day, the Centers for Disease Control reported 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S.; as of Saturday morning, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose to more than 706,000, according to Johns Hopkins University
On March 9, Trump posted two misleading tweets that blamed a market plunge on an oil price war and “Fake News,” and emphasized the comparatively small number of deaths caused by the coronavirus as opposed to the seasonal flu. Around the world, roughly 6.4% of people infected with the coronavirus have died worldwide, though that death rate is like an over-count, as deaths are easier to track than infections, the New York Times reported.
Nevertheless, the mortality rate of the coronavirus is thought to be higher than that of the seasonal flu, which kills 0.1% of infected individuals, Johns Hopkins University says.
Less than two weeks after the March 9 tweets, Trump tweeted that a combination of anti-malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin “have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changes in the history of medicine.”
His assertion appeared to rely on the results from a small French study of 26 COVID-19 patients, but a review published by scientists in the United Kingdom and Ireland criticized the study’s lack of randomized groups of test subjects. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that researchers still need to conduct “definitive studies” on this potential treatment and others.
Four days after Trump’s tweet about the mixture of anti-malaria medication, an Arizona man died after he took a non-pharmaceutical version of chloroquine phosphate to protect himself from the novel coronavirus. His wife said the couple learned of chloroquine as a potential treatment of coronavirus from Trump, CNN reported.
‘He’s very good at it’
Public figures, like Trump, can post hateful or misleading remarks on Twitter if the messages are deemed newsworthy and do not violate a set of conditions outlined by the company last October. Among the violations that could result in “enforcement action” from the company for public figures are “promotion of terrorism,” “direct threats of violence against an individual,” and “promoting self harm,” the company says.
Swisher pointed out the exemption afforded to Trump on the platform, and in her view how effectively he takes advantage of it.
“He’s an epic troll,” Swisher says. “Just appalling behavior on Twitter, and he breaks the rules almost continually that I can tell. But he’s allowed to because he’s a newsworthy figure.”
‘He’s very good at it,” she adds. “As FDR is to radio and JFK is to TV, he is to Twitter.”
Swisher made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
In 2014, Swisher co-founded digital tech outlet Recode, after working as a reporter at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Vox Media acquired Recode the following year, and last year Vox took ownership of New York Magazine. In a new arrangement announced on Monday, Swisher’s Pivot podcast will air under at New York Magazine and she will serve as editor-at-large for the publication.
Swisher has also worked as a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times since 2018.
Swisher contrasted the use of Twitter by Trump with the approach of Democratic Queens Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom Swisher also considers an effective communicator on the platform.
In June 2018, days after she defeated No. 4-ranked House Democrat Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a photo of beaten-up shoes to dispel notions that her victory resulted from favorable demographic changes in the district. Last January, after critics questioned her credibility by posting an old video of her dancing, Ocasio-Cortez mocked the effort by tweeting a video of her dancing outside her Congressional office.
“She’s fantastic,” Swisher says of Ocasio-Cortez, who has 6.7 million followers on the platform. “She’s different than him. He’s sort of a broadcaster — it’s like someone screaming with a bullhorn at you.”
“She’s a more call and response kind of person,” Swisher adds. “She speaks internet — you know, she speaks Twitter.”