Sleep, “Tweeting Frenzies,” and Other Highlights of @realDonaldTrump in 2020

Our research team at the University of Colorado Boulder has launched a series of posts that reveal how influential the @realDonaldTrump account was leading up to and during the 45th US Presidency. Like no other person online, this account had tremendous impact on not just its 88M followers — but also on the online information environment in the large.

This post is the fourth in a series we are running in winter/spring 2021.

This entry offers a descriptive overview of select events in the social media record of @realDonaldTrump for 2020. We do this in preparation for a deeper discussion of the April 23, 2020 press conference where Trump publicly suggested that injection of disinfectant could be a solution for controlling the novel coronavirus. This was the genesis for detecting unusual retweet activity by @realDonaldTrump’s followers and the moment of our transformation into accidental social media disinformation researchers.

Between January 1, 2020, and when Twitter suspended the account on January 8, 2021, @realDonaldTrump posted 12,356 tweets. This number accounts for a whopping 22% of the account’s all-time activity over an 11 year period since 2009. In addition, over the course of 2020, @realDonaldTrump’s follower count grew from 68.1M to 88.7M, a 30% increase.

Periods of Non-Tweeting and Sleep. Looking closer at @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter activity in 2020, we see that the account is consistently active in the morning as well as late into the night. There is a visibly distinct lack of tweets between 3am and 5am after March (referencing Figure 3, which we have presented in different forms in earlier posts), but other patterns require more than a visual scan. However, @realDonaldTrump’s intense re/tweeting activity is such that analysts can make such inferences about his biorhythms.

Here we use his re/tweet data to try to infer what might be Trump’s nighttime sleep cycle (Figure 1). We examine the time period between 10pm and 7am for re/tweet activity and then compare it to the rest of the data set since 2015 when Trump announced his candidacy. It appears that he had fewer contiguous hours to attempt sleep at the launch of his campaign and the end of his presidency, with the period between mid-2017 and mid-2019, a time when he was averaging a greater window between tweeting activity in the middle of the night. This might be an indication of a longer attempt at a sleep cycle. There are artifacts we cannot easily account for pre-2020, which could include frequent travel across multiple time zones within the course of a month, so overall trends are what the reader should attend to. When considering the entire time period between 2015 and 2021, he averages 5 hours and 42 minutes for a possible continuous sleep window in the middle of the night.

Nighttime Sleep Opportunity Chart. It appears that Trump had fewer contiguous hours to attempt sleep at the launch of his campaign and the end of his presidency, with the period between mid-2017 and mid-2019, a time when he was averaging a greater window between tweeting activity in the middle of the night. To produce this chart, we filtered for re/tweets after 10am and before 7am the next day, measuring the time difference between tweet events.
Figure 1. Nighttime Sleep Opportunity Chart. To produce this chart, we filtered for re/tweets after 10am and before 7am the next day, measuring the time difference between tweet events. We removed spans at the extremes: those that were more than 9 hours for spans of Twitter silence that perhaps had to do with other factors, as well as spans less than one hour to account for middle-of-the-night work. We then did a rolling 30-day average to smooth the curve and further account for the temporal artifacts of multi-time zone travel, for example.

“Tweeting Frenzies.” Not only does Trump’s general tweeting activity pick up over 2020, but so do moments that we call “tweeting frenzies.” We define a “frenzy” as at least 3 re/tweets posted within 10 seconds of adjacent re/tweets (so the smallest possible frenzy would be 3 tweets posted within 20 seconds of each other). Figure 2 shows the number of “tweeting frenzies” @realDonaldTrump engages in since 2015. Note that these hurried periods of Twitter activity did not exist prior to 2019. The frenzies began in May 2019 and persisted throughout 2020.

This figure shows the number of “tweeting frenzies” @realDonaldTrump engages in since 2015. Not only does Trump’s general tweeting activity pick up over 2020, but so do moments that we call “tweeting frenzies.” The line is flat 2015–19 and then shows steep spikes through 2020.
Figure 2: “Tweeting Frenzies” Chart. This chart shows the “tweeting frenzies” (defined as at least 3 re/tweets posted within 10 seconds of adjacent re/tweets) during the account’s time on Twitter.

Highlights. In addition to the volume increase in original tweets, the quantity of retweets also grows. Figure 3 shows the weekly ratio of retweet (orange) to original tweets (blue) on the left-hand side. June 5, 2020, was the most active day of the year, as indicated by the size of the bar in the first week of June, with a remarkable 163 retweets and 37 original tweets posted that day. June 5, 2020, was the day that “Black Lives Matter” was painted on the road to the White House by the DC Public Works Department, and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser named this area the “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”

The amount of flagged tweets (yellow dots) increases dramatically after the 2020 Election, with many of these flagged tweets relating to election fraud. December 6 saw the most flagged tweets at 20. Some of these were retweets discussing a trip to Georgia in which he questions the integrity of the election several times.

We invite the reader to try out the interactive-version of the plot below that we introduced in our previous post to drill down into these and many other historical, unprecedented moments in 2020.

Figure 3. Scatter plot showing which day and at what time @realDonaldTrump posts for 2020/2021 only.

Some historical moments in @realDonaldTrump’s 2020 Twitter social media record:

University of Colorado information scientists reporting on the influence of the 45th US President’s defunct Twitter platform