It’s Trump Versus WHO in Twitter Showdown Over Covid-19 Optics

Donald Trump’s Twitter account faces a new gun in town: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organization.

In recent days, Tedros has been sending out about twice as many tweets as Trump as the two leaders duel it out to control the narrative over the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, it’s David versus Goliath: Trump has 77 million followers, making his account among the 10 most popular on Twitter. Tedros has 1 million, which may be good for a leader of a United Nations institution, though it leaves him in the ranks of the Backstreet Boys or Pamela Anderson.

As controversy surrounds how both leaders are managing the crisis, Twitter has become a battleground for them to justify their positions and rally support. The U.S. president began his attack on the WHO in a 49-word tweet on April 7.

After Trump ordered a halt to U.S. payments to the WHO this week, Tedros retweeted messages of support from Melinda Gates, former President Jimmy Carter and European Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen. He also is highlighting countries and thanking them as they pledge more support.

31,451 in U.S.Most new cases today

-18% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​086 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

Communicating directly to followers on Twitter provides a way to try to control the narrative. Trump has repeatedly said the WHO gave faulty recommendations. Tedros has been defending the agency’s actions and lately has been making a series of one-word posts including “humility,” “unity” and “love.” The first time he did this, the enigmatic message sparked more than 5,000 comments and almost 7,000 likes.

The head of the WHO has been restrained in his comments about the U.S., its largest donor, which contributes about a sixth of the organization’s funding. Tedros has last week stood by a tweet in March in which he said Trump was doing a great job in rallying government officials.

Twitter also reveals a bit of zeitgeist surrounding both leaders. At the moment, typing Tedros into the search bar brings up #TedrosResign, while Trump’s name yields #TrumpLiesAmericansDie.

The director-general of the WHO has revealed a knack at rubbing elbows with the glitterati. In early March, he started the #SafeHandsChallenge, filming himself washing his hands the way the agency recommends. After he dared celebrities to copy him, a flood of stars responded, including Selena Gomez, Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrating proper hand hygiene to his Yorkshire terrier, Cherry.

— With assistance by Bryce Baschuk

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