Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Fake News, Crooked Hillary, and Bad People: A Linguistic Analysis of Donald Trump’s Twitter Insults

Fake News, Crooked Hillary, and Bad People: A Linguistic Analysis of Donald Trump’s Twitter Insults

Shannon Mckeown

As political discourse shifts from traditional media to social platforms, understanding and navigating mass communication becomes increasingly important. This paper explores the correlation between Donald Trump’s Twitter insults and standard propaganda tactics in order to reasonably predict the reach and impact of his social communications. By analyzing Trump’s most retweeted insults, this paper reveals a direct engagement with the seven propaganda devices: name calling, glittering generalities, transfer, testimonials, plain folks, card stacking, and band wagon. The tweets reviewed come primarily from the New York Times’ database of Trump’s insults and are compared to a synthesized definition of “insult” derived from the Oxford English Dictionary, Don Rothwell, and Helen Daly. Similarly, the author’s definition of “propaganda” incorporates ideas from Alfred Lee and Elizabeth Lee. Initially this paper establishes what constitutes an insult and determines how Trump’s tweets exemplify that definition. Secondly, three tweets comprised of his most popular insults “fake”, “crooked”, and “bad” are likened to the seven devices of propaganda and their context explained. Finally, the author discusses the reach and impact of Trump’s tweets, noting how information, unmoderated by reputable organizations, can quickly devolve into dangerous, politically biased propaganda.  This paper challenges the veracity of political discourse through social media and highlights the danger of an unmoderated platform. Many value the ease of instantaneous information over the faithfulness of traditional source based reporting. This modern complacency has the potential to allow for more political figures to employ the same tactics, eventually to a greater, more destructive degree.

April 5, 2019 - Posted by | abstract


  1. An all-too-timely topic. Sad!
    At the risk of seeming addicted to alliteration, I am curious about the relationship between information disseminated through the traditional media versus social platforms, summed up as the relation between mediation and moderation; anonymity and accountability. Feel free to rap that last bit.
    There also seems to be a quantitative/qualitative disconnect. How does one weigh the analysis of an acknowledged expert against giga-retweets and “influencers”?

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 5, 2019 | Reply

  2. I have never thought of this type of research until hearing you talk about it. It sounds so intriguing. A definite must read.

    Comment by Tabitha Trembley | April 5, 2019 | Reply

  3. What a great subject to write on! I believe this is really conference material. What has happened to the civility of our nation? It surely has digressed as can be seen through the last presidential election. I shudder to think what will take during the next race.

    Comment by Michael T. Vollbach | April 15, 2019 | Reply

  4. I think in the Era of Fake News, this is a really good topic to write about. I am wondering, though, how you go about discussing the part where you say that many people value “instantaneous information over the faithfulness of traditional source-based reporting”. What “faithfulness” do traditional news sources entail? I understand the nature of Twitter and such, but I feel as though the way “traditional” news outlets talk about the news is also extremely full of propaganda. Aside from that, you do a really good job discussing the way your research is set up, and I would love to read your paper!

    Comment by Dina Charara | April 23, 2019 | Reply

  5. Have you compared Trump’s “fake”, “crooked”, and “bad” insults to Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” who have “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic views”? Trump insults individuals. Hillary insulted a large segment of the American population. Scott Adam’s book ‘Win Bigly’ discusses Trump in terms of persuasion techniques in a world where the media has chosen to be politically biased.

    Comment by Margy | July 20, 2019 | Reply

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