Friday, January 13, 2017
When Donald Trump Tweets, Computers AUTOMATICALLY Change the World
Every Donald Trump tweet is a seismic event.
Like it or not, whether the posts offer insight or incitement, these social-media musings set off cascades of activity: Teams of Trump Tower–ologists attempt to decode the meaning of each of the 140 characters, talking points are sharpened, and cable-news producers cry out for new chryons.
But that only covers the human response to the president-elect’s posts. Each Trump tweet also activates thousands of computer algorithms: Stocks are instantly bought and sold and emails fired off — even electrical currents are affected. (There’s even an app that alerts investors when Trump tweets about companies.)
Though it’s impossible to know just how many high-frequency-trading algorithms are moving shares on the basis of @realdonaldtrump, one measure of the magnitude of his Twitter feed’s algorithmic influence is the Internet service IFTTT.
For the uninitiated, IFTTT — which stands for “if this, then that” — allows users who know nothing about coding to create cause-and-effect algorithms. The free service makes it simple to get notifications if it’s going to rain tomorrow, to automatically sort and archive your photos as you take them, or even adjust your thermostat automatically when you enter or leave the house. As my Wall Street Journal colleague Geoffrey Fowler put it, it’s the Internet’s best productivity tool.
I asked IFTTT how many people have set up algorithms to track Trump. “We have just under 1,000 people using IFTTT to keep up with Donald Trump tweets,” spokeswoman Anne Mercogliano replied.
The most popular Trump algorithms automatically email his tweets to users, or post them in intracompany message boards like Slack, she said.
Some IFTTT users have set their lights to blink whenever Trump tweets, Mercogliano said. Putting the president-elect’s social stream of consciousness to productive use, others link IFTTT to banking services like Qapital to have small sums of money move into their savings accounts every time Trump fires off a new tweet.
Trump’s tweets, including such coinage as “phony facts,” may be the best-read prose of our time. More IFTTT algorithms are activated by Trump tweets than those of Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Barack Obama or the major market feeds, Mercogliano told MarketWatch.
This level of scrutiny also makes it unlikely Trump could ever get away with deleting a tweet before anyone notices, since instant records of his posts will have been created.
The big question remains: Will Trump’s Twitter habits change once he takes office? Will he continue to use his feed and his nearly 20 million followers to move markets and set policy? Not even the algorithms know the answer.