On Tuesday, Jan. 2, the president stirred alarm after sending a tweet directed towards North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that people feared would provoke further escalation, if not outright nuclear war. It wasn't the first time Donald Trump had written something incredibly controversial on Twitter. But it's hardly normal: Compare his social media penchant with his predecessor Barack Obama's, and you've got quite a picture. Trump and Obama's most controversial tweets are about as different as the men themselves.
For the sake of clarity, let's break this down a bit. Obama's official presidential account didn't become active until May 2015. An important point: the @BarackObama handle has been run by Organizing For Action, a non-profit formed by Obama and his allies following his 2012 campaign. So, for years, that handle has been the voice of the organization and not specifically Obama's, as The Washington Post's Philip Bump explains. During much of his presidency, only tweets with a signature " - bo," for his initials, would indicate that they were actually Obama's handiwork. The @POTUS handle was regarded as *actual* Obama.
When Trump took office in January 2017, Obama's official presidential handle became an archive and the name changed the name to @POTUS44, while Trump took over the @POTUS handle. (The same thing happened with Michelle Obama's handle, which became the archive @FLOTUS44, when Melania Trump took over @FLOTUS.) It's not clear, after Trump's inauguration and the handoff took place, whether Obama is now himself tweeting using the @BarackObama handle or if that's still being operated by his organization. (But if his end-of-year message of positivity on Twitter is any hint, it sure sounds like the real Obama.)
Trump has been on Twitter since March 2009. Now, even in the White House, he's continued to tweet from this personal account rather than use the @POTUS or @WhiteHouse handles to get the word out.
Obama's Most Controversial Tweets
Obama certainly crossed some lines for people when he offered up his opinion on what belongs in guacamole in this July 2015 tweet: "respect the nyt, but not buying peas in guac. onions, garlic, hot peppers. classic."
And in October 2016, the president in his last few months made undoubtedly made enemies when he gave props to the Chicago Cubs despite being a follower of their crosstown rivals. "I'll say it: Holy Cow, @Cubs fans. Even this White Sox fan was happy to see Wrigley rocking last night. #FlyTheW."
Most of the official POTUS tweets were pretty tame, but he probably ruffled feathers with some tweets from the @BarackObama handle.
On a more serious note, the president shared his opinion on military policy around LGBTQ+ individuals in December 2010: "By ending 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' no longer will patriotic Americans be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love."
Similarly, his June 2013 tweet about immigrants brought the U.S. as children probably rubbed some people the wrong way. "Retweet if you agree that DREAMers are part of the #AmericanStory. #DACA," he shared. Amazingly, though, despite 13,000 retweets and 1,300 likes, there was only one reply, and it wasn't negative.
A tweet earlier that month about climate change made it clear where the president stood on the topic (though, hey, he wasn't being coy about it). "Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous," Obama wrote, sharing an article. Lots of users had something to say in reply.
It's worth mentioning that Obama, after leaving office, swept the Twitter world by storm in 2017, garnering some of the most popular tweets of the year, and even broke the all-time record for most retweets. (Trump didn't make the cut.)
Now, as for Trump...
Trump's Most Controversial Tweets
We don't have to go that far back (just to this past Tuesday, in fact) to find one of the most controversial tweets by Trump. But there are many, and most of them involve him picking fights with people — or entire groups of people, institutions, or countries.
Maybe the summer heat was affecting him, because the next month, Trump announced (yes, via Twitter) that he decided to ban transgender individuals from the military. Unsurprisingly, it was not well received on the social media platform.
Speaking of firing: Trump's feud with the NFL reached a boiling point in September when he tweeted that players protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem should be fired.
Last but not least, as a sort of bookends to the other fights he started on Twitter this year, there was the ongoing feud with the news media that reached new heights on Jan. 2 as he suggested a legitimate awards show to mock them, ending Trump's first year in office with a dramatic finish. (We'll see how this plays out on Monday.)
Trump is only nearing the end of his first year as president, and we can only imagine how different the landscape will continue to evolve as 2018 unfolds.