Commander in tweet: Donald Trump has used Twitter as a bully pulpit and to block users

One high school junior seems to have made a very powerful enemy on Twitter.

ByABC News
January 18, 2017, 5:21 PM

— -- Like a typical teenager, part of Antonio Del Otero’s morning routine includes checking his social media. But when it comes to Twitter, this 16-year-old high school junior and class president from Detroit is not at all typical.

Del Otero seems to have made a very powerful enemy on Twitter: President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump’s use of Twitter, both prolific and provocative, has stoked global feuds and controversy at home. It’s one of the main tools he has wielded in his rise to power, his megaphone aimed, not just at the powerful but at individual citizens like Del Otero, who dared to tweet a teenager’s dissent at @RealDonaldTrump.

“I called him a ‘reject Cheeto,’” Del Otero said. “It was pretty crazy, because it was the first time a tweet of mine has ever received that kind of attention.”

The tweet, which Del Otero originally posted nearly a year ago, got thousands of likes and retweets, but also a lot of hate. And then he was blocked by @RealDonaldTrump.

“I thought, ‘OK, you know, my tweet was definitely immature,’” he said. “It was weird to have him block someone.”

He and his friends couldn’t believe it when @RealDonaldTrump bothered to block a high schooler.

“I remember when it happened, he like texted me in all caps like, ‘I just got blocked by Donald Trump,’” said Madison Kusibab, Del Otero's friend.

Blocking him meant Del Otero could no longer directly see any of Trump’s tweets. But he found a workaround by creating a second account – and he is far from being an isolated case.

ABC News' “Nightline” spoke to more than a dozen people who say Trump blocked them on Twitter, but since Twitter won’t comment on user blocking habits, it’s hard to know exactly how many users have been blocked. But there were enough to produce the hashtag, #BlockedByTrump.

Dubbed the “Commander in Tweet,” Trump himself credits his tweets with helping him win the White House.

“Between Facebook and Twitter, I have I guess more than 40 million people and that’s a modern day form of communication,” he said during a Dec. 7 interview with NBC. “I get it out much faster than a press release. I get it out much more honestly that dealing with dishonest reporters.”

But now, as he’s about to take on the role of commander-in-chief, his use of Twitter as his chosen platform to launch political attacks and policy is drawing widespread concern.

In fact, 64 percent of Americans surveyed say they want him to shut down his personal Twitter account once he takes office, according to a recent Quinnipiac University survey.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to change his Twitter ways. At a rally in April, he told the crowd, “Don't worry, I'll give it up after I'm president. We won't tweet anymore, I don't think. Not presidential.”

But just this weekend, he reversed course, telling the Times of London that he is keeping his personal account because “I am covered so dishonestly by the press.”

It was tweets from Trump’s personal account, plus campaign rhetoric in which he talked about a “temporary ban on Muslims” and claimed Mexican immigrants "are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists," that spurred Del Otero to vent his frustrations on Twitter. Del Otero, who is part Middle Eastern, part Cuban, said he took Trump’s words personally.

“It’s two groups of people he has viciously attacked over his election, and it obviously angered me,” he said.

Conservative radio talk show host Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman from Illinois and vocal Trump supporter, says Trump blocked him on Twitter in fall 2015 after he criticized Trump’s comments about Megyn Kelly and Sen. John McCain.

“For him to block me because of one or two negative things, surprised me,” Walsh said. “And what’s so ironic is that’s what Trump says he does. He says what he believes, good or bad. You would think that he would respect somebody who says what they think.”

Walsh believes all American citizens should be able to see Trump’s tweets.

“He’s our president,” he said. “I will say this again as a Trump supporter … he is way too thin-skinned.”

Trump’s aggressive and unapologetic tweets helped launch his political career. He tweeted early and often about the birther movement – the conspiracy theory that President Obama wasn’t born in the United states – and it took years for Trump to back down.

But while his tweets may seem impulsive, they often masterfully control the news cycle. ABC News deputy political director Shushannah Walshe said Trump’s spat with Meryl Streep following her Golden Globes speech dominated headlines more so than his sometimes heated cabinet confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.

Since the election, Trump hasn’t hesitated to tweet his way into some very sensitive territory of global diplomacy, which can rattle unpredictable regimes like North Korea or strike fear in global corporations.

“When Trump tweets as president-elect it’s having an impact and nowhere can you see that more clearly than in stock prices,” said ABC News chief business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis. “For example, when he sent out a negative tweet about Lockheed Martin, automatically the stock started to fall. Meantime, that same tweet mentioned Boeing positively – that stock went up.”

Trump isn’t above the errant tweet either. Just yesterday, he meant to tweet at his daughter Ivanka Trump, who uses the Twitter handle @IvankaTrump, but instead he accidentally tweeted at an account belonging to an English woman with the same first name.

The woman tweeted back at Trump, saying, “You’re a man with great responsibilities. May I suggest more care on Twitter and more time learning about #climatechange.”

The Trump team did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment, but Trump told Fox News Tuesday, “I don’t like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing.”

Harvard presidential historian Leah Wright Rigueur pointed out there is a long history of presidents trying to bypass the press and communicate directly with the American public using new technology.

“There are historical precedents for this. There's somebody like Franklin D. Roosevelt, who uses his fireside chats quite effectively to get the message, very specific targeted message, to get around his critics, to bypass the press,” Rigueur said.

Ronald Reagan talked to the public unfiltered in a radio address every Saturday.

“I think one of the things that [Trump] supporters like is that he's just like them even though he's not. Meaning that he tweets like them. He talks like them,” Rigueur said.

But she cautions, “If we're having a president who is blocking all access and trying to discredit the press … we don't have people that are you know holding the president's feet to the fire."

Being blocked by Trump gained Del Otero a bit of Twitter fame. But he says hate tweets from strangers have morphed into hate tweets from classmates.

“They made a hate page where they produce tons of false stuff,” he said. “People would say things like ‘terrorist’ to me, they would call me a bunch of slurs, and tell me that they're going to throw me over the wall.”

His parents say they have never faced this kind of bigotry before.

“We discussed deleting his account,” said his mother, Melinda Del Otero. “He’s entitled to his voice … freedom of speech.”

The Twitter hate page against Del Otero was eventually taken down after school officials and local law enforcement stepped in.

Del Otero, who sees political activism in his future, has become an inspiration to his friends.

“Being around him, seeing how he was unafraid to speak his mind, made me feel like, well I should speak up as well,” said his friend Kusibab.

Recently, Del Otero’s original Twitter account was unexpectedly unblocked by Trump’s account. “Nightline” checked back in with the other people who had said they were blocked by Trump, but none of them said they have been unblocked as of Tuesday.

The whole experience has taught Del Otero how to respectfully disagree. He said he doesn’t fire off snarky tweets like he used to.

“Because if I want people to maintain a level of maturity I should be maintaining that level of maturity myself,” he said.

But Del Otero wasted no time sending his first tweet to Trump after being unblocked.

“I hope he sees it,” he said.

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