Washington Post reporter Krissah Thompson contacted me recently asking me if I had any thoughts about Melania Trump’s use of social media. I thought it was a fascinating question and so I started digging into her Instagram and Twitter accounts.
I must say, I found both feeds really dispiriting. I suspect that a lot of people who follow her closely and rate her highly might feel sorry for her. There is very little evidence that she is sharing anything remotely personal, which is what primarily attracts people to the social media feeds of celebrities and other powerful public figures. (The big exception, which might prove the rule, is her last Instagram post, a flirty close-up with a Santa hat.)
You might assume that Melania Trump is simply uninterested in the public stage or is uncomfortable sharing her private life with the public, but her personal Twitter feed, which she hasn’t updated since election day, is filled with personal preferences and observations that feel quite intimate. So much so, that I’m pretty sure I could pick out a gift for her (and flowers!) that I know she’d like. That is what’s so powerful about these social platforms: they can make you feel as if you really know someone. But the carefully coiffed woman featured in the FLOTUS feeds seems distant and disconnected. I couldn’t help but wonder whether her approval rating is higher than her husband’s precisely because she withholds so much, which gives her the patina of dignity.
Of course it’s tempting to compare Melania Trump’s social media presence with that of her predecessor, Michelle Obama. While the former first lady’s feed was also loaded with official events, she often spoke at those events, and through various media outlets, which allowed her to post material filled with her voice, her attitude, and her humor. She also had the habit of posting personal musings in the official FLOTUS account, which were differentiated from the rest of the feed with the initials “mo.” You don’t see any intimate asides from Melania Trump.
The vast majority of the photos she posts are documentation of formal events: she’s basically caught on camera performing her duty. What you don’t tend to see is her looking into the camera, or trying to connect with the American public, as Michelle Obama does quite convincingly in her photos and videos. Our current first lady seems to see herself as someone to be seen – which makes sense given her professional modeling career – but strikes me as a bit chilling in her new role, which is endowed with tremendous cultural and political power. The big question is, will she ever choose to wield it?
Read Thompson’s Washington Post article.