PSA: Fake Donald Trump Is Maybe Not Your Best Marketing Plan

Yesterday, an author — a bestselling author — went around and did a series of tweets with fake Donald Trump tweets, and these fake tweets were Donald Trump mocking this author’s book. One of those tweets has since gone around the ol’ retweet carousel around 12,000 times. In part because it was retweeted by a number of celebrities, most of whom seemed to believe that it was real. If you look at the tweet and its responses, this is a common theme — a lot of people thought it was real. Which isn’t surprising, because that’s the angle, isn’t it? Trump on any day of the week might be using his global platform as president-elect to (sigh) rant and rail at everything from automakers to world leaders to Saturday Night Live. Listen, let’s be real: if Trump one morning decided to tweet rant about like, penguins, it would not shock any of us. (“Penguins. Totally biased!! Tiny flipers and cant fly. SAD”). It wouldn’t shock us because his Twitter feed is a lunatic’s parade of rage and hurt butts, a constant pouty stream of fragile ego shrieking and wailing from between the bars of its wrought iron cage.

So, to see Obama one day talk about how important books are to him, and what writing has meant for him (seriously, he promoted The Three-Body Problem, holy shit awesome), and then the next day to see Trump railing on some random author’s book — it’s legit believable.

It’s just not true. That’s the first part of the PSA. I’m seeing it go around, so please know:

That Trump tweet is fake.

The author likely didn’t mean any harm here (though since being called on it, it would’ve been nice to see the tweets deleted or at least a public addendum suggesting that they were, indeed, fake). I assume he meant it as something halfway between a joke and a marketing ploy. And I’m sympathetic, because hey, getting word out about your book — even as a bestselling author — is a grim, strange magic. Having something go viral around your book has value, at least in getting attention — ideally, it also gets sales. Hell, I’m helping him with the job just by talking about it. I didn’t know about his book before yesterday, and now I do.

Since that time, though, not only has the tweet gone around the world a couple times, I’ve now seen other writers trying the same thing — mostly on Facebook, actually — again in the vague hopes of I guess doing a bit and also serving the Marketing Gods. And, just as with the original tweet, I’m seeing some people take the bait and think it’s real.

Here’s why this is probably not an ideal marketing strategy.

First, we live in an age of fake news, and sure, I get that maybe you’re trying to lean into that and use that as leverage for so-called “satire” (by the way, satire and marketing ploys don’t go together, and once something is a marketing ploy, it ceases to be satire). But this isn’t The Onion. This isn’t sharp, incisive comedy that is clearly fake. This looks like fake news, and people believed it as such, and even in a world where Comrade Dumpkov is who he is, it’s dangerous to put more kooky words into his mouth and to distract from the reality of the many actually awful things he says. Don’t headfuck us further. We have enough shit to worry about.

Second, there’s the creepy shine of exploitative opportunism here, because just days before, Trump attacked Civil Rights icon, John Lewis, and as a result, that icon’s sales jumped per book by a figure in the hundreds of thousands of percent. Trump is a guy who says, fuck bees, and tomorrow, everybody’s a beekeeper. Trump tells you to eat Trump Steaks and it’s like, okay, those are poison, don’t touch those, you’d be better off eating one of those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. But the timing here is bad. You don’t really want to come across as an author who thinks, Hey, I can be just like John Lewis, and I’ll fake Trump trash-talking me, right? Even if that’s not what the author thought, it vibes that way. John Lewis is an American icon, and what he had to go through to get here, where he gets yelled at by a bloated ego-buffoon is not currency for you, for me, for any of us. Look at it a different way: would you somehow tweak and twist Black Lives Matter into a way to sell your book? Would you say BOOK LIVES MATTER to sell your book? Do you see where that starts to feel sorta gross, how it feels itchy and uncomfortable using real life and real suffering as rungs on a ladder?

Third, Trump is bad people. He’s advocated sexual assault, he’s advocated banning people based on their religion, he yells at Civil Rights icons and makes racist assumptions about their districts — I’m sure in his quieter hours, he kills and eats bald eagles while wiping his ass with the Constitution. So, looking at him, I have a hard time seeing opportunity. I have a hard time seeing him as a good marketing platform, especially because that platform would springboard from his horribleness. His awfulness isn’t a tool. If you could imagine yourself going back in time and using Actual Hitler as a way to sell your book or your widget or your whatever, then don’t do it with Actual Trump, either. We’re having a hard enough time with this guy, with fake news, with toxicity across social media to try to trade-off on that as some kind of marketing tactic. Again, that’s probably not what that author was doing here. Maybe it was, in all honesty, just a joke. Certainly I’ve made jokes about Comrade Dumpkov, and will continue to, because if we can’t laugh then we’ll chew through the rebar we have to bite on to repress the existential scream that continues to try to escape our faces. But this tweet has gotten bigger than just a joke, and maybe there are better ways. If you’re an author considering aping this tactic, nnnnyeah don’t? And if you’re the author who used the tactic in the first place, maybe now’s a good time to deal with those tweets?

For the rest of us, it is once again a good time to remember that there’s a lot of fakey-fakey stuff out there, and some of it doesn’t mean to be harmful, some of it definitely does, and it’s on us to stay vigilant and keep an eye on verifying what we read and what we spread around.

35 comments

  • I must admit, I was surprised. I even said “Trump can read?” in reply.
    The problem is, you go to this guy’s website, and there are his books. And there are some puff pieces from people. And you begin to think: “well, if the Trumpetty Tweets were fake, are these reviews fake, too?”
    Silly man. As you say, he should have removed them and put an explanation.

  • I find the whole backlash against Isaac Marion surprising.

    To me, it was obvious from the first tweet that it was parody (aside from the typography tells—incorrect line-spacing, directional quotation marks [quotation marks in authentic tweets are purely vertical], and the fact that “Trump” hyphenated a compound adjective [“low-selling”], which, really, the guy never seems to do).

    Mostly, it was the context that gave it away. Trump, reading a novel and bashing its theme? Come on, now—how is that *not* obviously a joke?

    Granted, yes, it was also plausible—but that’s the whole humor of it. Isaac was discussing his book, while poking fun at Trump’s characteristic tweet-aggression.

    That people began spreading it around as real (and getting angry when discovering it wasn’t) says more about people’s knee-jerk tendencies to reTweet things (without taking the time to familiarize themselves with the actual content itself) than it does about Mr. Marion’s intentions—which, in my opinion, were purely innocuous.

    Stephen Colbert received a similar backlash when he generated a fake tweet of Trump bashing Jesus. Apparently, even the humor of that one wasn’t obvious enough—people still mistook it as being authentic and got outraged as a result.

    Perhaps the safest bet is to avoid parody altogether (whether it’s subtle, or obvious)—these days, much of the general public seems incapable of identifying it.

    • Or perhaps the better bet is to aim for parody that is actually funny and not easily confused as truth — and further parody that is not also tied to marketing a book.

      I can’t speak to his intentions, and I am comfortable assuming they were not of ill origin — though the longer he defends them and refuses to address them, that assumption dwindles.

      • Well, I can’t argue with any of that. Well said.

        Hopefully he does address this and clear the air, one way or another.\

    • Just as a point of information: not all authentic tweets use vertical quotation marks. Twitter’s perfectly capable of handling full Unicode, and I know a number of people (myself among them) who’ve configured keyboards to easily produce directional marks. See, for example, https://twitter.com/meyerweb/status/817400676397486080, where I used both single- and double-quote marks.

      Not to take away from all your other points, mind you. I just want to put in that curly quotes aren’t an automatic mark of fake tweeting. Pretentious and pedantic tweeting, maybe…

    • “Without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers or viewers as a sincere expression of the parodied views.” Poe’s law.

      The lesson of this story: Next time, use emojis. Or don’t, if that;s your thing.

  • January 18, 2017 at 9:46 AM // Reply

    This: “Do you see where that starts to feel sorta gross, how it feels itchy and uncomfortable using real life and real suffering as rungs on a ladder?”

    Capitalistic cleverness that is hollow, insensitive, lacks class–especially from writers–is troubling (I hold us to high standards since we are readers and generally pretty smart for cripes sake). Just the other day, I saw an ad for a book (a whole series of nine books actually) of Western wagon train romances with the titles all based on the phrase “Trail of…” only “Tears” is replaced with words like “Smooches.” Stories about white people, heading west to prosper, find love, get their HEAs. Uh. Big fail. Truly, everyone needs to slow down and think about what they are doing, how it will be received–if we stopped instantly sharing everything that pushes our buttons (or at least waited an hour or a day to mull its worth before sharing), we’d transform the landscape of the web. Not that slowing down could have penetrated the level of insensitivity that allowed an indie author the time to write nine books and have their covers made and everything published. But when someone does something crass like name their entertainment after a tragic historical event in which many indigenous people suffered and died at the hands of white people, we can refuse to help them. When someone fakes information and spreads it as truth, we can refuse to be their conduit, their pawn. Not sharing. Not buying. Moving on. Thanks for letting me rant in your space, Chuck. Those titles are still bothering me.

  • Thank you for writing a blog on this so I didn’t hvae to. LOL

    The other very real problem with using a fake DT tweet is the guy is litigious as fuck. There’s a very good chance of him coming back on that author and suing the pants off him. THAT right there should scare anyone off using him.

    Not to mention, we already know DT isn’t much of a reader. For him to bash or praise ANY book, to me, comes off as a fake tweet.

  • The first thing I did when I saw a retweet was go check Trump’s feed to make sure he’d said it. He hadn’t, so I was faintly amused by the other tweets, but they all made my Spidey-Sense tingle.

    Firstly because Trump loves to threaten legal action and he’s already taken swings at the free press. It would not be a huge leap for him to threaten an author with something similar.

    Secondly, because one of the things we can’t do with Trump is make him a figure of easy or comfortable comedy. I say “we”, I’m a Brit, but Trump impacts us too. One of the dangers we face is what happens when Trump becomes an easy, comfortable topic of comedy. When we have fake Trump tweets for everything, from breakups to breakfast cereal. What happens next is people stop taking the person seriously. Just like the UK has somehow done with Boris Johnson, you notice what they’re saying, assume it’s a joke, laugh, nod, move on and never once oppose or protest that this lunatic is in charge of something damned important.

    I don’t think that’s a risk we want to take.

  • thank you for this. i was offended and infuriated at the tweets in question and couldn’t express exactly why. it was something about the author manipulating the 24/7 headfuck already well-established by the PEeOTUS, but i couldn’t get much further. this right here is why. i hope the author got something positive out of this clownery. i, personally, will avoid his books like the plague, which is unfortunate.

  • January 18, 2017 at 11:53 AM // Reply

    Another excellent post, and some good, thoughtful responses. I hadn’t seen or heard anything about this (not being particularly twitter-pated), but I definitely get the shudders at anyone deliberating adding to the mess of fake news, and the concomitant validation of a rejection of opinions you don’t like. My apologies for that sentence.

  • Thanks for also mentioning that the vagaries of marketing sometimes push writers to try questionable tactics. Despite the regular ads, there doesn’t seem to be a “secret” to book marketing success, and it’s nice to know that even established authors make a miss-step now and then.

  • January 18, 2017 at 1:25 PM // Reply

    Hey there’s even an app! faketrumptweet.com
    Maybe this whole election was just a marketing ploy by Donald so he could finally sell something for once in his life.

  • Awesome commentary! I didn’t know about the fake tweet. I’d beware of Trump claiming proceeds of any sales of the book or suing for whatever. It’s been a pleasure reading this blog. Living in the Deep South where even the most seemingly reasonable people have convinced themselves that “Trump is the answer” is like living in an emotional minefield. It’s hard to reason with people who think democrats are in favor of abortion at 9 months or that Obama started a war on Christmas (overheard after the election: “Thank God, we can say Merry Christmas again!”), or that Hillary Clinton hates children and has been in jail, or refuse to watch any news but Fox News. Facts don’t matter. So we need to continue to seek out the facts and to speak truth, even when we become the subject of the family’s unspoken prayer request at church. Lord bless em!

  • Extending your excellent points on why hitching your marketing to someone else’s wagon of evil isn’t a good idea, the reality Show we are all thrust into isn’t profiting us, it’s profiting Comrade Dumkov. It’s his Show and when we appear on it, we’re the only ones who can get fired. We enable and enrich the thing we loathe.

    I don’t want any of that kind of toe scrapings on my books. I want at least my books to escape The Show unsullied.

  • I wish what I’m about to say were melodrama and not actually true, but as the descendant of slaves who has witnessed scads of layers of crappy BS and who heard the N word between kindergarten and 5th grade more times than I ate apples, I AM DEEPLY GRATEFUL TO YOU for what you said about John Lewis. Author/actress/activist Marlo Thomas published a book titled The Right Words at the Right Time, about…well, it’s obvious. I saw her wax philosophical about the importance of words at a book fair years ago, and, Chuck, your words about John Lewis are a salve.

    Thomas stressed how people who have never met can still affect one another with their words. Let me be a little specific about how your commentary about John Lewis helps heal: So often, disrespect is less the problem. It’s the sheer lack of understanding that pains. Your words reveal understanding. I appreciate them.

    Finally, folks, we are in a zone we can’t even fully assess yet. To play around with the bit of clarity we’re fighting for for ANY reason is socially irresponsible. We need to be as #Verified as possible in these icky times because when it hits the fan, we need to know it really is $h!t.

  • Jesus. It’s a Praise Chuck lovefest.
    Y’know Chuck, I love your writing, I love what you mostly have to say, in fact for Christ sake I have quotes from you on my wall. You keep inspiring me after three plus years to fight on with my first novel. But this post of yours is a big #sofuckingwhat to me. You’re overangsting. As are your commenters, mostly.
    Maybe the guy sold a few extra books, maybe not. I wouldn’t try his fake tweet thing, or maybe that’s just me after the fact disavowing it because I’m jealous I didn’t think of it myself. Who knows. Who cares.
    Smart people, whose opinions and retweets really matter, know there’s fake news everywhere. Smart people would actually look at Trump’s Twitter feed and say “did he really say that, I mean the guy’s a total cunt but why would he… oh look, it’s fake.”
    On the Mister Clean eraser thing, I once bit a urinal cake in half on a dare. So consider that in validating my opinions. Or not. It did taste better than a Trump steak…
    Meanwhile it’s still just fucking Twitter. Not real. Or maybe real. But nothing to get all fucked up about.

    • We have an American president-elect who uses Twitter to start pissing matches with everyone from Rosie O’Donnell to foreign nations and corporations.

      I think it’s pretty fucking real, William. And in a world full of fake news, I’d rather not see opportunistic authors adding to the noise.

      • Thanks for the reply, Chuck. To your first point, yeah, the third grade mentality is real. I had to turn off the TV today when I saw the fucker acting all solemn at the unknown soldier’s tomb. Parading all his family out there like they were actually taking it seriously. So WRONG! SAD!

        I just don’t think it’s such a big deal some author made a joke out of a guy who’s already a joke. That part we’ll disagree on.

        Now random fact, and get ready for this as it shows the innate cosmic power you hold, Chuck. You mentioned Mister Clean. Which caused me yesterday to tell you the story about biting a urinal cake. That was absolutely true and it happened at the Knarr Tav in Seattle forty years ago. Today… seriously… today I found out the Knarr is closing next month. It just ain’t right, man. I should have kept that story to myself.

        You have the power to tilt the universe, Chuck. Use it wisely.

      • Why not? It seems exactly the ploy that made Trump “leader of the free world.” At that point, you might as well have a four-martini dinner, throw caution to the wind, and hop on the crazy train. And don’t worry about the FTC; he’ll have it dismantled in another week or two.

  • Trump is a wobbly clown car, with three square wheels and a broken steering wheel. In no way can this public menace be made light of, not for love or money. He’s a wreck waiting to happen, the best we can do is to steer as many people out of the path as possible.

  • Social media is about 96% fake, hateful bullshit. So is that other 4% worth it? Nope. Which is why I decided to ban myself from Twitter, Facebook, etc. starting this year.
    I’m on the leading edge. Take your life and humanity back. Kill your social media accounts.

  • So, let me chime in here as an author of a book on social media for authors…

    The reason this rant matters is that authors do some pretty dumb things, not just on Twitter but on social media as a whole; and that phrase “Shit rolls downhill…” applies to other authors who are legitimately trying to market a book online. I have been accused, for example of “constantly asking for Amazon reviews…” which, I admit, I do. Twice a month. If I remember to do so. Somehow, that defines as “constantly” against writers who go on Twitter, throw are “bestselling author” without citing what list, and tweet 10 times a day “Buy my book” while messaging “Love this!” on Instagram when the accompanying post is “Today, my cat died. Goodbye, old friend.” Writers should know better, and when they do stupid shit like this, it should be called out. Otherwise, it will happen again.

    Just my two cents.

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