President-elect Joe Biden’s digital director said Tuesday that Twitter told the transition team that the millions of followers on the official presidential accounts, including @POTUS, wouldn’t transfer to Biden when he takes office.
This will be the second time the presidential Twitter accounts will pass to another president, but Twitter’s move represents a change from the transfer policy four years ago.
Twitter appeared to have allowed the followers to be transferred, since the accounts maintained their follower counts, archived webpages show.
President Donald Trump inherited almost 14 million followers from President Barack Obama in 2017, and that count quickly increased after Inauguration Day.
A Twitter spokesman, Nicholas Pacilio, told Business Insider that the company is “in ongoing discussions with the Biden transition team on a number of aspects related to White House account transfers.”
When President Barack Obama left office in 2017, his administration urged Twitter to pass along not only the official accounts for the president and the White House but their millions of followers to President Donald Trump. Twitter appears to have complied.
That won’t be happening when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, according to Biden’s digital director, Rob Flaherty.
Flaherty tweeted on Tuesday morning that the company informed the Biden team that it “will have to start from zero” with its follower count.
The Biden transition team told Business Insider that the @POTUS, @FLOTUS, and @PressSec accounts would all start at zero followers. Twitter will send a one-time notification to users who follow @JoeBiden or @KamalaHarris to suggest they follow the transition team’s account, @Transition46, which will be rebranded as @WhiteHouse, according to the Biden team.
The team also said Facebook was allowing presidential accounts and their followers to be transferred to the Biden administration.
Flaherty referred to a Wall Street Journal report in which a Twitter spokesman, Nicolas Pacilio, said Twitter would transfer about 12 official presidential accounts to the Biden administration, including @POTUS and @WhiteHouse, after resetting their passwords.
In a statement to Business Insider, Pacilio said that “Twitter has been in ongoing discussions with the Biden transition team on a number of aspects related to White House account transfers.”
Twitter declined to elaborate on how it would typically handle this process and whether the @POTUS followers would transfer to the Biden team.
On January 20, 2017, when Obama still held the @POTUS account, it had 13.7 million followers, archived webpages show. After the account transferred to Trump, that count briefly dropped to about 4 million before rising back up to 14.4 million. The Journal noted that there were technical glitches during the transfers in 2017.
Trump quickly grew his follower count – it sat at 15.5 million by February 17.
Obama was the first sitting president to use a Twitter account. Jason Goldman, who, under Obama, was the first White House chief digital officer, told The Journal that the @POTUS account was created so that future presidents could use it as well.
While Trump has used Twitter as his de facto mouthpiece, he hasn’t used the official presidential Twitter account – he has used his personal account, @realDonaldTrump. The @POTUS account often retweets posts from Trump’s personal account.
Twitter may have granted the Trump administration’s request to inherit Obama’s followers in 2017, but the company and Trump have developed a rocky relationship. Twitter began fact-checking Trump’s tweets in May. Some Republicans said it was evidence that Twitter and other tech firms suppressed conservative content.
Trump will be forced to abide by different Twitter rules when he becomes a private citizen in January, The Journal reported. Trump’s status as a political leader has granted him permission to post with less risk, and it prevents his tweets from being taken down or his account from being suspended. Those privileges will be stripped next month, Pacilio said.
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