Read between the lines. Learn how information can be distorted.
Since announcing his candidacy for president, U.S. President Donald Trump has sent 98 tweets using the word “immigration” or “immigrant.”1 We analyzed all of them for their spin, slant, logic and accuracy, and found many distortions. Some of them oversimplify what’s essentially a complex, multi-pronged issue that many countries—not just the U.S.—struggle to balance.
Here are our spin, slant and logic ratings for all of Trump’s tweets on “immigration” between June 16, 2015 and the present. The total distortion rating—which is comprised of those scores as well as a rating for accuracy—means that 60 percent of the tweets were distorted.
While we used the same analysis process and methodology that we use to rate news articles, it is important to acknowledge that the president’s tweets are not the same as the news. Yet given the authority of his office and the impact of his tweets, it can be insightful to examine whether he uses data-based language, considers multiple perspectives, and uses valid reasoning.
Of the 163 sentences we analyzed, 133 of them had spin words—meaning, they had vague, dramatic or sensational language. Some of them portray Trump’s plans and his administration’s efforts as effectively dealing with the country’s problems, including immigration. But it’s difficult to critically evaluate what he says because the language isn’t precise or data-based.
“Jobs are returning, illegal immigration is plummeting, law, order and justice are being restored. We are truly making America great again!” Apr. 12, 2017, 7:32 p.m.
- Vague: This tweet is spun. It speaks of progress, but provides no specifics at all (how many jobs exactly?). Readers may not understand how “plummeting” illegal immigration makes America “great again,” or know from what condition order and justice are being “restored.”
“I will end illegal immigration and protect our borders! We need to MAKE AMERICA SAFE & GREAT AGAIN! #Trump2016” Feb. 12, 2016 7:31 p.m.
- Vague, again: Same question on immigration as above, and this tweet isn’t precise about what the U.S. borders need to be “protected” from. The U.S.-Mexico border, for example, has existed in its current form for more than 163 years, and bilateral relations have been largely regulated for the past 23 years under NAFTA. What’s changed so drastically that now undermines the country’s safety and “greatness”?
Overall rating: 65% Spun.
The Knife’s slant analysis measures how much of a news article (or, in this case, Trump’s tweeting) supports just one point of view, and what percentage brings in other perspectives (i.e. balance).
In Trump’s tweeting on immigration, the prevalent message is that immigrants pose serious problems for the U.S., and that the issue must be addressed immediately. We found that out of 163 sentences, 148 supported that perspective. Only 15 were neutral, and none provided alternate points of view.
In part, this is because Trump portrays the issue using cherry-picked information. He correlates different issues to immigration, including domestic gang violence, criminal violence, drug abuse and trafficking, job loss and terrorism. But he doesn’t consider numerous other factors.
“I told you so. Our country totally lost control of illegal immigration, even with criminals.” Feb. 5, 2016, 9:42 p.m.
- Slanted: Trump used a Breitbart article as evidence of his assertion. The article slants data from a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee. It states 179,027 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have been convicted of a criminal offense. Breitbart’s headline says the “Fugitive Criminal Aliens Outnumber All New Hampshire Cities’ Entire Populations.” That makes it sound like a big number, but why not say they also outnumber the population of Antarctica? The real bias, however, is the lack of context: it doesn’t tell readers about the number of American citizens and lawful residents who’ve been convicted of a crime (one calculation puts that number at around 6.7 million adults). Comparing the two, has the “country totally lost control of illegal immigration”?
Overall rating: 73% Slanted.
There were 8 sentences in these tweets that had questionable logic that didn’t include enough data or reasoning to support the argument. There were 47 sentences that were misleading through implication.
“The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!” Apr. 18, 2017, 4:39 a.m.
- Questionable logic: This singles out the previous administration as the cause of the growth of MS-13, a gang formed by Salvadoran immigrants who came to the U.S. after Central American conflicts of the 1980s. It’s certainly possible that Obama’s policies played a role, but Trump doesn’t provide evidence that they caused the gang to grow. Plus, the tweet doesn’t consider other factors. Wouldn’t the U.S.’ role in those wars and the policies of subsequent administrations also share some responsibility? What’s more: violence and organized crime is a societal problem — suggesting an administration is solely responsible for addressing it misinforms people about the issue’s causes and possible solutions.
Then there’s this one from 2015:
“We MUST have strong borders and stop illegal immigration…Without that we do not have a country.” Jun 30, 2015, 7:35 a.m.
- This does not follow: It is certainly possible to have a country without “strong borders” and with illegal immigration.
Overall rating: 36% Faulty Logic.
We decided to include this special category. In 38 of the tweets, Trump criticizes those who diverge from his views or approach on immigration, among other subjects. Most of these tweets contain opinions that may be disparaging to the people in question. In addition to damaging their character, opinions like these (also called ad hominem attacks) may alter readers’ perception about the people in an irreversible way.
“Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress. VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO” Apr. 18, 2017, 5:38 a.m.
“@HillaryClinton is weak on illegal immigration & totally incompetent as a manager and leader – no strength or stamina to be #POTUS!” Nov. 20, 2015, 4:38 p.m.
- Subjective: Both tweets subjectively evaluate these individuals’ abilities, performance and character. Would everyone who knows them agree? It’s unlikely. Also, if you noticed “weak” is repeated twice, it’s no coincidence: it’s a term Trump used 24 times across the 98 tweets (21 times in this grouping alone). How does one measure “weak” anyhow?
1This sample is limited to tweets Trump sent or manually retweeted since announcing his candidacy for president on June 16, 2015. Due to the number of search results, we limited the selection to tweets that include the terms “immigration” and/or “immigrant(s).” This cross section doesn’t include other immigration-related tweets he has sent in the same timeframe using terms like “Muslim(s),” “travel ban,” “refugee(s),” “Mexico/Mexicans,” “wall/the wall,” “undocumented” and “illegals.”
What Trump says about illegal immigration:
- Illegal immigration is a huge problem and the root of many issues affecting the country, including crime, gangs and drugs.
- Trump is a champion of stopping illegal immigration. Anyone who disagrees with his approach — including 2016 presidential candidates and former president Barack Obama — is either “weak” or part of the problem.
What Trump doesn’t explore about immigration:
- Illegal immigration may pose some problems, but may also provide benefits to the country. For instance, it provides labor for the construction and agricultural industries, which may otherwise have labor shortages. No potential benefits of illegal immigration are presented in his tweets.
- There may be other approaches to immigration that differ from Trump’s that may be legitimate, or not “weak.”
What Trump says about crime related to immigration:
- To solve the issue of illegal immigration, the U.S. needs to build the southern border wall and be tougher on illegal border crossings. Otherwise, we risk losing the country to criminals.
- Undocumented immigrants pose lethal danger to lawful residents, as evidenced by the killing of Sarah Root in Nebraska, who “was horribly killed by [an] illegal immigrant…”
- Previous immigration policies allowed gangs to form and drugs to spread in cities across the U.S.
What Trump doesn’t explore about crime related to immigration:
- Building a wall could limit the number of undocumented immigrants traveling into the U.S. from its southern border — it may also not. However, there’s no data given as to how that would lower crime or save the country from criminals.
- Any violent crime, whether committed by an undocumented immigrant or an American citizen, is a tragedy. Violence is a human problem that isn’t exclusive to the U.S., and isn’t solely caused by undocumented immigrants. More importantly, the examples Trump cites lack context, as no data is given to compare violence between legal and undocumented populations.
- Previous immigration policies may have less to do with people joining gangs than greater societal issues like violence, prejudice and ostracization. The same could be said of drug abuse and trafficking, which are often inspired by peer pressure, a perceived inability to cope with daily life, economic considerations, among other factors. If the U.S. were to limit all illegal immigration into the country, those problems would most likely persist.
What Trump says about immigration related to the veteran community:
- It’s not right that veterans aren’t receiving their benefits while undocumented immigrants are taking advantages of health and educational benefits.
What Trump doesn’t explore about immigration related to the veteran community:
- These are issues that may not necessarily be related. No data is given to support the idea that undocumented immigrants are receiving benefits at the expense of veterans. It’s also possible that issues relating to veteran care predate problems presented by undocumented immigrants.
“When you do your Christmas shopping remember how disloyal @Macys was to the subject of illegal immigration.” Nov. 23, 2015, 1:45 p.m.
Macy’s did not mention illegal immigration in its statement, as reported by CNN on July 1, 2015: “We are disappointed and distressed by recent remarks about immigrants from Mexico. We do not believe the disparaging characterizations portray an accurate picture of the many Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Latinos who have made so many valuable contributions to the success of our nation,” adding that “In light of statements made by Donald Trump, which are inconsistent with Macy’s values, we have decided to discontinue our business relationship with Mr. Trump and will phase-out the Trump menswear collection…”
“Wow, pres. candidate Ben Carson, who is very weak on illegal Immigration, just said he likes amnesty and a pathway to citizenship.” Nov. 12, 2015, 2:21 p.m.
Ben Carson did not use the word “amnesty,” according to the quotes published in Breitbart. People have different interpretations of “amnesty,” so if he didn’t use the term himself, it’s difficult to say if he really “likes” amnesty.
“John McCain called thousands of people ‘crazies’ when they came to seek help on illegal immigration last week in Phoenix.” Jul. 19, 2015. 5:15 a.m.
According to The New Yorker, McCain said, “what [Trump] did was he fired up the crazies.” McCain didn’t say all people who came to see Trump were “crazies,” nor did he say there were “thousands” of “crazies.”
“Notice that illegal immigrants will be given ObamaCare and free college tuition but nothing has been mentioned about our VETERANS #DemDebate” Oct. 13, 2015, 9:33 p.m.
Trump suggests that Democratic candidates support ObamaCare and free college tuition for undocumented immigrants, yet the candidates didn’t explicitly say this in the Oct. 13, 2015 Democratic debate that Trump references. During the debate, Anderson Cooper, the moderator, said, “Governor O’Malley, and Senator Sanders, want to provide instate college tuition to undocumented immigrants.” However, “instate tuition” may or may not equal “free.” Earlier in the debate, Sanders said, “… what we need to do is … make every public college and university in this country tuition free,” but he didn’t state if this would apply to undocumented immigrants. Hillary Clinton didn’t say she favored free college tuition during the debate.
“Anybody that believes in strong borders and stopping illegal immigration cannot vote for Marco Rubio READ THIS: https://t.co/Tj85IsBPG8 [Breitbart article]”
“The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.”
They were refugees detained by Australia, and the majority were from Iran.
“Nation’s Immigration And Customs Enforcement Officers (ICE) Make First-Ever Presidential Endorsement”
The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council (a union) endorsed Trump while he was the GOP nominee.
Access information and historical data that provides a more comprehensive understanding of the story.
Between June 30, 2015 and Aug. 1, 2017, Trump posted 98 tweets that included the word “immigrant(s)” or “immigration.” Below are some of the recurring topics.
Stopping illegal immigration
Trump describes stopping or ending illegal immigration nine times, including a reference to a Washington Post article (Dec 10, 2015: “Why Franklin Graham says Donald Trump is right about stopping Muslim immigration”).
Problem and solution
On Aug. 26, 2016, before being elected, Trump said “illegal immigration…such a big problem for our country-I will solve.” On Apr. 12, 2017, following his election and inauguration as president, he said “illegal immigration is plummeting.” He did not provide metrics or cite a source for this assertion. Click here to see the full tweets.
Types of immigrants
In one of his tweets, Trump mentions illegal immigrants from Australia, and in another he provides the headline and link to a news article about “illegal immigrant children and non-Mexicans.” Across eight total tweets, he references “Syrian immigrants” or “Syrians” three times, and “Muslims” three times.
Over the 98 tweets, Trump described five incidents of murder in which the perpetrator was identified as an undocumented immigrant. He also described the murder of five people in Washington state, where the perpetrator was a “Middle Eastern immigrant.” He also describes “the crime and killing machine that is illegal immigration,” without explaining what this means.
People “weak” on illegal immigration
There are 24 tweets in which Trump says various individuals, policies or organizations are “weak” on illegal immigration, or “weak” on stopping illegal immigration. He doesn’t say what “weak” means or how it’s determined in these cases.
Opinions on the media
Trump sent three tweets in which he expressed his opinion on the media in relation to his handling of immigration policy. In all of them, he describes a type of opposition or poor performance from the media, but doesn’t cite specific evidence to back up the claims.
Of the 98 tweets, six were data-based, informative and unbiased.