What the obsession with “covfefe” reveals, and other social media lessons
It was the middle of the night, and President Trump sent out what appears to be an unfished tweet stating, “Despite the negative press covfefe.” Don’t recognize that last word? Probably because it isn’t in the dictionary.
The President went to sleep, and the world that was awake could talk of almost nothing else. What resulted is nothing short of a frenzy. Is it a foreign word? Is it code? President Trump is in uncharted territory here— we’ve never had a President tweet an indiscernible typo because we have never had a President use social media like he does. His messages are unfiltered, raw and sometimes, confusing or unnerving.
Some have suggested that his handlers should take the President’s phone away. Think about that for just a moment. How highly do you think of yourself if you think you are in a position to determine whether or not the President of the United States should have access to a particular means of communication available to most of the nation’s adolescents? While we might speculate about the prudence of the President’s choice to communicate with the public in this way, we have no control over what Trump tweets. If there is anything the covfefe episode illustrates, it is this— we have a President who does what he sees fit to do in his own eyes. That includes doing what he chooses to do on social media.
Let’s turn the spotlight around and ask: what does this episode reveal about us? This latest controversy, which might have come out contweetsy if I were tired, reveals just how shallow and fixated the news media can become. If you were somehow insulated from the covfefe news cycle, great. Apply these observations to the days when other faux controversies whipped the media into a frenzy.
We have traded meaning for spectacle
This week, there were events that I would classify as actual news with significant impact on the world. There was a horrific suicide bombing yesterday in Kabul, Afghanistan. Among the more than 80 savagely killed and the 350 injured were eleven U.S. embassy personnel and nine Afghan nationals who work for the United States. Planned Parenthood released its long overdue 2015 annual report revealing the murderous pace of 900 American babies slaughtered every day by abortion just through that one organization.
Yet, news anchors were asking sitting US Senators what they thought covfefe meant. Really? This is not just about the mass media. We consume the news, but we also all play “content creators” by what we like, share and tweet.
Spectacles are kind of like candy. It may be fun and tasty at the moment, but we can’t sustain life on candy. You need real substance. In a similar way, if we are consumed by the latest spectacle, we might want to ask: what am I missing of real importance and meaning? If I am spending considerable time wrapped up in the latest controversy, am I allowing room for the age-old spiritual disciplines to renew my mind with what is good, beautiful and true?
We love a good pile on
Why is it that we love a good pile on and why is that we stay tuned in when the news isn’t news? Trump has never been on a pedestal so to think this somehow tarnishes his crystalline image is ridiculous. But it does reveal the depth of contempt and unforgiveness for even the most minor of offenses. Who on Twitter hasn’t mispelled a word from time to time?
Social media shaming is an actual phenomenon we are witnessing in real time. There has been a lot written about the ease to criticize or condemn from behind a screen versus in person. But the burst of self-righteousness we might feel when we see someone we don’t like stumble? That’s not new.
But as Christians, that is totally contrary to a life lived in submission to Christ. Our operating system has to be reconciliation— because we have been reconciled to God, through Christ. Andy Crouch wrote in Christianity Today about “The Return of Shame in our digital age.” The gospel offers the opposite of isolating shame, but redemptive adoption.
The remedy for shame is not becoming famous. It is not even being affirmed. It is being incorporated into a community with new, different, and better standards for honor. It’s a community where weakness is not excluded but valued; where honor-seeking and “boasting” of all kinds are repudiated; where servants are raised up to sit at the table with those they once served; where even the ultimate dishonor of the cross is transformed into glory, the ultimate participation in honor. To use the powerful biblical metaphor, the gospel offers adoption—a new status as “sons,” to use the intentionally gendered, high-status word of Romans 8—to both men and women, now members of the family of the firstborn Son.
Input determines output
The two best responses I have seen to the covfefe controversy were by the President himself and Merriam Webster— yes, the dictionary.
When he awoke (just 5 and half hours after posting the late night truncated covfefe tweet) he deleted the tweet and posted a playful replacement.
Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
Merriam Webster simply went back to bed.
📈 Lookups fo…
Regrets checking Twitter.
Goes back to bed.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) May 31, 2017
Have you ever felt that way? That you just wish you could take back whatever time you wasted on social media? The truth is we cannot unsee what we see and we cannot unread what we read. What we consume feeds our thoughts, imaginations, biases, and fears. What we take in has an impact on what comes out.
As we enter the summer and we each have an opportunity to spend time away from it all, I challenge you to consider actually getting away from it all. All of it. What actual good might come in your life if you delete the Twitter app from your phone for a 24-hour Sabbath or a weekend off or – I know this sounds crazy – but an entire week away in the woods with your family or friends? If your answer is “I don’t know and I can’t imagine,” then keep a journal of the answers and let us know on social media after your summer experiment in reality returns to the Wonderland-esque nonsense of social media.
For more on this topic, listen to our interview with Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You: