President Trump’s relationship with the media has always been fraught. He rarely holds press conferences, and when Press Secretary Sean Spicer steps in to speak on his behalf, things tend to devolve quickly. But he still sees one place as a safe space in which to express his innermost self: Twitter. For years Trump has shared his thoughts on the social media platform, and while these days the press reports on virtually every tweet, many have lost sight of what those dashed-off mini-missives really are—statements from the president.
@RealPressSecBot makes them official. Well, not entirely. The Twitter bot automatically reposts the text from @realDonaldTrump messages in the format of a press release from the White House. “It’s just doing the obvious thing, giving the president’s tweets the honorable treatment they deserve,” says Russel Neiss, the software engineer who created the bot. “The only buffoonery is from the content of the tweets itself.”
The concept for the bot was inspired by President Obama’s former deputy director of messaging, Pat Cunnane, who on Sunday posted an image of Trump’s latest tweet about the London Bridge attack reformatted as an official statement from the White House. After Cunnane tweeted the image, a friend tagged Neiss, who has created dozens of bots, asking if he could create one to automatically replicate the effect. Neiss tucked in his three kids for a nap, sat down at his desk in in St. Louis, and started coding. Forty minutes later, @RealPressSecBot was up and running.
A statement by the President: pic.twitter.com/pLvuERPnkm
— Real Press Sec. (@RealPressSecBot) June 4, 2017
Within 24 hours, the bot had more than 60,000 followers and had posted nine presidential statements—including two that consisted of gripes about political correctness, one swipe at the Justice Department, and many that exhibited an affinity for caps lock. As Trump tweets more, so will the bot—it scours the president’s feed every five minutes for new content.
There’s no shortage of bots or parody accounts mocking POTUS’s online behavior, but Neiss’ feed is alone among them in highlighting the dissonance between Trump’s tweets and the fact that he’s, you know, president. By framing Trump’s tweets in the same standardized letterhead used by the White House Press Office, Neiss’ bot amplifies the disparity between his words and their power. Rather than illustrating Trump’s erraticness through absurdity, @RealPressSecBot does it with deadpan, taking his pronouncements as seriously as they ought to be taken.
“It hit me that this is actually very accurate,” says Neiss. “The act of seeing it mocked up in that way gave more gravitas to what it actually is.”
Some of that, to be fair, is the medium more than the message. Trump’s tweets look haphazard, even a little absurd, when dressed up as official statements—but apply Neiss’ algorithm to any other government official, and the results would be similarly terse (if more benign). If Trump started to tweet more typical responses, the bot would reflect that. “I look forward to him tweeting things that look great on this,” Neiss says.
It’s possible that someday, followers could mistake @RealPressSecBot for official statements from the White House—but for now, it’s not the Office of the Press Secretary sending out messages about how “the courts are slow and political!” That’s just the president.