Analysis: Clinton tells Trump to delete his Twitter account, and quietly adds Internet judo to her arsenal

Hillary Clinton is cheered by supporters in Brooklyn, N.Y., this week.
(Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton isn’t usually one for jaw-dropping insults.

But when Donald Trump insulted her on Twitter, calling her “crooked” after Obama endorsed her, she had a few – three, to be precise – words for him.

Cue the schoolyard cries of “oooooohhhh.”

“Delete your account” may seem like a funny retort, but it’s got some cultural weight to it. The phrase has been a long-running meme, particularly in the Black Twitter community, and is used as a combination of insult and advice. Sometimes, if someone says something so stupid that it is beyond redemption, people will gently, or harshly, advise them to remove themselves from the Internet.

Or: “Delete your account.”

Ira Madison, a writer at MTV News, has an entire column called “Delete Your Account,” where he takes the concept to its logical conclusion and explains, in hilarious detail, where the offender (usually a celebrity) in question went wrong, and whether or not their transgressions deserve a revocation of Internet privileges. Donald Trump’s infamous taco bowl tweet, for example, got a “yes” – in gif form.

Which is why we’re taking a look at Clinton's tweet. Of all the things that Trump has tweeted, is his calling her crooked “delete your account”-worthy? With this tweet, Clinton has thrust yet another bit of niche culture into the mainstream, where it may well suffer the same fate as the dab.

Make no mistake, the tweet is funny. But it’s also indicative of Clinton taking a casual-looking approach to reaching young people — and communities of color — online.

Trump’s outreach toward minorities has been low-touch for some time and doesn’t require much in the way of money or resources. Post a snapshot of yourself eating tacos and move on. If you like Trump, it will make you smile. If you don't, it’s probably for a bigger reason than tacos.

Clinton, on the other hand, has made more direct attempts at reaching out to minorities online. But they haven't always gone over well.

Consider an attempt to reach out to young Latinos last December, when her site posted a listicle called “7 ways Hillary Clinton is just like your Abuela.” The move was immediately criticized in online circles. Instead of being celebrated, it generated a trending hashtag called #NotMyAbuela, with people recalling the actual hardships that their grandmothers had endured as a result of racism and a broken immigration system. Clinton, many complained, knew nothing about those experiences. Some people labeled the campaign “Hispandering.

Some of Clinton's attempts to reach out to young black people online have also backfired. On Dec. 1, when her campaign modified her logo – easily the most innovative of all the candidates’ – in celebration of Rosa Parks, the reactions were mixed. A Buzzfeed poll of 10,000 people found the switch “wrong" and appropriative. To be fair, putting Rosa Parks in the back of the bus was probably a bad idea.

Later that same month, the campaign changed her Twitter logo in celebration of Kwanzaa – this time, inspiring more ridicule than anger. The #NewHillaryLogo topic trended, with users mocking what they saw as more racial pandering.

The backlash was so bad the campaign changed it back within hours.

Clinton’s adjustments online have become something of a running joke – President Obama made fun of it at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, saying that she’s like “your relative that just signed up for Facebook.

Observers might find any digital missteps funny, but Clinton's campaign seems to be taking seriously the backlash she suffered in late 2015.

So instead of gambling with direct visual ads that might fall flat, she seems to mirroring her recent ad campaign and positing herself as the anti-Trump online. There was no logo change for Black History Month. In May, she did not risk a Cinco de Mayo tweet herself. Instead, less than an hour after Trump made his Cinco de Mayo taco bowl tweet, Clinton’s account tweeted the presumptive Republican nominee in his own words.

Clinton's social media account has become quite nimble recently – the “delete your account” retort was made only five minutes after Trump. When he says something off-color, her social media managers can simply judo-flip him onto the Twitter timeline for her followers to lampoon.

It may be a bit passive, but it's less risky than another ethnic-themed logo.

To be sure, Clinton’s social media mishaps pose little danger of inadvertently sending young people, especially those of color, running to the Trump camp. But perceived cultural slights might add up, and make a young voter of color less excited about Clinton.

Currently, Clinton holds a significant edge among black and Latino voters, who have traditionally voted Democratic in presidential elections. This is especially the case in California, where a USC Dornslife/Los Angeles Times poll found that 92% of black and 78% of Latino Californians would favor Clinton over Trump in a general election.

But according to a recent NBC poll, Clinton is only narrowly leading Trump among the general population nationwide.

Increased voter participation of young minorities should also be on Clinton's mind: In 2012, blacks showed up to vote at a higher rate than whites overall, and black voters aged 18-24 were more likely to vote than their white peers. In the 2016 elections, millennials will make up almost half of all eligible Latino voters.

Trump has already clapped back, in his own way, at Clinton. He’s probably not going to delete his account.

Clinton’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. But the tweet can be considered a success: Within four hours, it had already been retweeted a quarter of a million times.

Follow me @dexdigi for more on the intersection of culture and the Internet.



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