Biden won’t inherit Trump’s Twitter followers, according to Biden team

  • 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, will not transfer to Biden when he takes office.
  • This will be the second time the presidential Twitter accounts will pass to another president, and Twitter’s move represents a change from the transfer policy four years ago.
  • Twitter appeared to have allowed for the followers to be transferred at the time, since the accounts maintained their following counts, archived webpages show.
  • President Donald Trump inherited almost 14 million followers from President Barack Obama in 2017, and that count quickly began to grow immediately after inauguration day.
  • 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.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When President Barack Obama left office in 2017, his administration urged Twitter to pass along not only the official Twitter accounts for the President of the United States, @POTUS and the White House, but also 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 2021, according to Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty. Flaherty posted on Twitter 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 will all start at zero followers. Twitter will send a one-time notification to users that follow @JoeBiden or @KamalaHarris to suggest they follow Biden’s transition team account, @transition 46. That account will be rebranded as @whitehouse, according to the Biden team.

The team also said that Facebook is allowing presidential accounts, like @POTUS, and their followers to be transferred to the Biden administration.

Flaherty tweeted the revelation and referenced a Wall Street Journal report in which Twitter spokesman Nicolas Pacilio told the outlet that Twitter will indeed transfer around 12 official presidential accounts to the Biden administration, including @POTUS and @WhiteHouse, after resetting their passwords. 

In a statement to Business Insider, Twitter spokesman Nicholas Pacilio said “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 if the @POTUS account followers will transfer to the Biden team.

On January 20, 2017, when Obama still held the @POTUS account, he had 13.7 million followers, archived webpages show. After the account transferred to Trump, that count briefly dropped to around 4 million before rising back up to 14.4 million. As the WSJ notes, there were technical glitches when the transfers were being made in 2017. He quickly began to grow his follower count — it sat at 15.5 million by February 17.

Obama was the first sitting president to use a Twitter account during his presidency from 2008 to 2016. Jason Goldman, who, under Obama, was the first White House Chief Digital Officer in history, told the Journal that the @POTUS account was created so that future presidents could use it as well.

Trump has used Twitter as his de-facto mouthpiece throughout his presidency, except he hasn’t used the official presidential Twitter account — he has used his personal account, @RealDonaldTrump. The @POTUS account often retweets posts that Trump makes on his personal account.

Twitter may have granted the Trump administration’s request to inherit Obama’s followers back in 2017, but the social media company and Trump have developed a rocky relationship. Twitter began fact-checking Trump’s tweets in May, justifying a firm belief among Republicans that the platform, and other tech firms, suppress conservative content online.

Trump will be forced to abide by different Twitter rules when he becomes a private citizen in January. Trump’s status as a political leader has granted him permission to post with less risk, and it also prevents his tweets from being taken down or his account from being suspended. Those privileges will be stripped come 2021, Pacilio told the WSJ.

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