On Wednesday, January 20, 2021, as President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. completes his transition into the White House, several social media companies will be completing their own transitions of highly followed official accounts.
But the handoff won’t be as seamless as it was four years ago when President Barack Obama turned over the keys of much of his social empire to President Trump.
In 2017, President Obama passed on official Twitter accounts to President Trump, along with the millions of followers the accounts had gathered. Since then, President Trump’s digital team has used the accounts as megaphones for the administration’s agenda and built the follower numbers higher: @POTUS has 33.3 million followers, @WhiteHouse has 26 million, @FLOTUS has 16.4 million and @VP has 10.3 million. The @POTUS account alone has nearly tripled in followers under Trump.
But this year, instead of simply handing them over as it has before, Twitter will not carry over the followers of each account as Biden assumes control. Instead, accounts with much smaller followings, mostly created last week, will be transformed into the official ones.
The transitions mean the Biden digital operation will largely have to build new followings from scratch, instead of getting a head start from its predecessor as President Trump had. Twitter said it would alert users to the new accounts.
“People on Twitter who previously followed institutional White House Twitter accounts, or who currently follow relevant Biden or Harris Twitter accounts, will receive in-app alerts and other prompts that will notify them about the archival process, as well as give them the option to follow the new administration’s Twitter accounts,” Twitter said in a blog post.
@PresElectBiden, an account that has posted just once and has fewer than one million followers, will become @POTUS, taking with it however many followers it has on Wednesday afternoon.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will bring her 5.3 million followers from her own account @SenKamalaHarris over to @VP.
The account for Joe Biden’s transition, @Transition46, has 1.5 million followers and will become @WhiteHouse.
And @FLOTUSBiden, Jill Biden’s new account with about 530,000 followers, will become @FLOTUS.
In 2017, Trump wasted little time using the @POTUS account, sending its first tweet of the new administration just two hours after he took control on Inauguration Day. (He continued to use his personal account until this month when Twitter banned him.)
The tweets on each current account will be archived under different names. The Trump administration’s tweets under @POTUS, for example, will be transferred to @POTUS45.
Donald Trump regularly used Twitter to make policy announcements and to fire some of the people who worked for him, drawing new followers by the millions even as he spread misinformation about the voting process and election security,
The National Archives will preserve all of Trump’s social media activity, including deleted tweets from @POTUS and his personal account, @realDonaldTrump. The personal account, which the president used as an unfiltered platform for policy announcements, airing grievances, and fleeting thoughts that often had significant global ramifications, remains inaccessible after he was suspended for provoking violence.
Biden could also continue to tweet under his personal account, @JoeBiden, which has 24.3 million followers.
Rob Flaherty, who will be the director of digital strategy in the Biden administration, told Bloomberg News last week that Twitter’s failure to pass over the followers of the official accounts was unfair.
“They are advantaging President Trump’s first days of the administration over ours,” he said. “If we don’t end the day with the 12 million followers that Donald Trump inherited from Barack Obama, then they have given us less than they gave Donald Trump, and that is a failure.”
Over on Twitter, Flaherty called the account a “public good,” noting that the followers include “plenty of rando bots and trolls, but also, plenty of folks who don’t really engage in politics.”
The transition will be less complicated on other social networks.
On Facebook, the followers of the White House account will be passed over to Biden, said Kevin McAlister, a Facebook spokesman. The seven million followers of the Joe Biden account will be duplicated to the POTUS page, which has 6.5 million followers and has not been used since May 2018.
The Trump White House account will be renamed so it can be archived, Mr. McAlister said.
The same procedures will take place on Instagram, where the White House account has 6.8 million followers. The account Joe Biden has 15.4 million followers on Instagram.
A YouTube spokeswoman said the 1.87 million subscribers of the White House channel will be passed over to the Biden administration.
Snapchat will transfer the “Whitehouse” account, along with its 803,000 subscribers, to President Biden at 12:01 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, a Snap spokesperson said.
That means on those sites, users who had signed up to follow news from the Trump administration will soon be seeing news from Biden’s, something Flaherty said he was looking forward to.
“There is value in being able to communicate with an audience that doesn’t agree with us,” he told Bloomberg News.