In mid-April 2020, screenshots of a tweet attributed to United States President Donald Trump on November 23 2009 began circulating, in which he purportedly criticized then-President Barack Obama’s handling of the H1N1 (also called swine flu) pandemic:
Obama’s handling of this whole pandemic has been terrible! As President, ALL responsibility becomes yours during a crisis like this, whether or not you’re entirely to blame. John McCain, and for that matter myself, would never let thousands of Americans die from a pandemic while in office.
A purported screenshot was shared to iFunny.co on April 16 2020:
Comments on the entry indicated that many readers believed the tweet was authentic:
“Damn theres really one of these for fucking everything”
“Tweets that didn’t age well”
“It be like that”
“Oops! That didn’t go very well….”
Iterations of the image spread on Facebook and Twitter, but seemingly only in screenshot form. No one linked to an original tweet, despite the fact that a date was clearly displayed: November 23 2009.
We first used Twitter’s advanced search capability to attempt to locate the tweet, with no success in any of the iterations. We were unable to locate any tweets attributed to Trump in the days around November 23 2009, and only one tweet where Trump used the word “pandemic” on or before April 2015:
However, a tab search we had open for “Obama” or “pandemic” updated with a contemporaneous tweet from Trump on April 17 2020:
We broadened the search for all tweets from Trump between November 1 and December 1 2009; Trump joined Twitter in March 2009, per his bio on the platform. In 2009, he was not tweeting nearly as much, and the month-long query returned just three tweets:
Of course, deletion was a possibility (albeit an unlikely one), so we expanded our search parameters to see what precisely Trump was saying about Obama from when he joined in March 2009 through the end of that year.
As it turns out, not much — or more accurately, nothing at all. Trump did not even mention Obama by name for the whole of 2009 on Twitter:
In all of 2010, Trump mentioned Obama once in passing, and did not criticize him:
By 2011, Trump had begun taking to Twitter to voice his views on the Obama administration, sending just under fifty tweets mentioning the then-President. But during that year, he didn’t use the words “H1N1,” “swine flu,” or “pandemic” in any of those tweets.
In 2012, Trump was regularly tweeting about President Obama — occasionally in a non-critical fashion:
Prior to April 2015, Trump did mention “Ebola” in just under 50 tweets, many of them critical of Obama. Only one of those tweets included the word “handling,” and he mentioned Obama’s name about 31 times in that entire span:
No mentions of any “pandemic” by Trump prior to April 2015; even through 2017 (his first year of office), Trump only used the word “pandemic” in that single tweet from 2014 above.
If Trump deleted the tweet, it would likely live on in the form of manual retweets dating to well before the COVID-19 pandemic. But once again, a search turned up zero results — no one had even seemingly transcribed the tweet in the screenshot:
As of April 17 2020, a search on Google for the text of the tweet turned up three results, two of which pointed back to iFunny. The single entry not pointing to iFunny was dated April 17 2020.
It was true President Trump criticized President Obama’s handling of Ebola, and that he criticized the previous administration’s management of H1N1. But the latter criticism primarily occurred in April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on and on.
A circulating screenshot attributed the following tweet to Donald Trump: “Obama’s handling of this whole pandemic has been terrible! As President, ALL responsibility becomes yours during a crisis like this, whether or not you’re entirely to blame. John McCain, and for that matter myself, would never let thousands of Americans die from a pandemic while in office.” It appeared to be an entirely novel invention, and we found no trace of it before it emerged on iFunny on April 16 2020. Multiple searches indicated Trump didn’t begin criticizing President Obama using Twitter until around 2012.