The tweet quickly appeared to become his most shared ever, racking up more than 887,000 retweets and 1.6 million likes by late Friday afternoon, according to social media analytics company Tweet Binder and researchers.
“The fact that Donald Trump broke the info on Twitter indicates that this is his mode of choice for communicating with the American people about the most serious things,” said Samuel Woolley, a professor and director of a propaganda research team at the University of Texas at Austin.
Trump has one of the most popular Twitter accounts in the world, with 86.6 million followers. He uses the site to broadcast his thoughts on issues, promote his campaign for presidency and attack his critics. Even as Twitter invoked Trump’s rage earlier this year by slapping fact checks and labels on his tweets, Trump kept tweeting multiple times each day.
That’s unlikely to stop during his quarantine, especially if his symptoms remain mild, social media experts who follow his account say. It may even give him more time to tweet. Trump has been known to tweet more during times of rest or travel over the past few years, Woolley said.
“I bet that once he has his feet under him, assuming his case is relatively mild, he’s going to be tweeting more than ever,” said social media researcher and Clemson University professor Darren Linvill.
It’s not just the president. Shelter-in-place and quarantine restrictions this year have proven that people turn to social media more often when they’re stuck inside. In the early weeks of the pandemic, Twitter reported that its number of daily users increased 23 percent from the year before to 164 million people.
Other world leaders have already set an example for how to manage social media while battling the coronavirus this year. When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, also a prolific user of Twitter, caught the virus, he updated followers on his condition regularly on the platform. That included when he entered the hospital. Similarly, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro continued tweeting through his brush with the virus in July, announcing in a tweet when he finally tested negative.
People also turned to Twitter to share their own thoughts about the president’s diagnosis. They tweeted shock, schadenfreude, support and in some cases to say they hoped the president would die from the virus.
Twitter on Friday evening said in a tweet that it would take down any tweets that “wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against anyone.” The social media company said it would remove the tweets but not suspend the users who made them. It linked to an existing policy on abusive behavior. There were still many tweets on the site saying various versions of the same thing, so it was unclear how much Twitter was enforcing the policy.
The firm stance took some longtime Twitter users by surprise, many of whom had been subjected to similar harassing tweets over the years. Twitter has long struggled with harassment on the platform, with many reported tweets being allowed to stay up after review.It has also been trying to police Trump’s own tweets, taking action on a handful in recent months. In 2019 Twitter stated that if world leaders, including Trump, violated the same policy, the company would hide the tweets with a warning that says “The Twitter Rules about abusive behavior apply to this Tweet. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain available.”
Twitter did not immediately return a request for comment.
Trump has tweeted, on average, 37 times a day for the past 90 days, Linvill calculated. He waited nearly 18 hours to tweet again after his bombshell announcement just before 1 a.m. Friday, to post a video to thank people for their support and say he was going to the hospital.
That duration between tweets is unusual for him, but it could have been because he is assessing the situation and deciding what it means for his campaign, Linvill said. Trump relies on the site to rally his supporters and communicate with the public at large.
“For him to give that up when he’s just more than 30 days out from the election, that would be unthinkable to me,” Woolley said.
Heather Kelly contributed reporting.
Jair Bolsonaro is president of Brazil. An earlier version of this article said he’s president of Mexico.