Dec 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden won't inherit official White House account Twitter followers

Illustration of the presidential seal with the Twitter logo in center
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Twitter on Tuesday confirmed that while it will transfer about a dozen official administrative accounts to the Biden administration, it will not transfer over the followers associated with those accounts.

Why it matters: The move is a departure from the precedent set in 2017, when Twitter transferred millions of followers from official Twitter handles used by the Obama administration to the Trump administration. The change spurred public criticism from the Biden's digital director on Twitter.

Details: According to a Twitter spokesperson, on Inauguration Day 2021, Twitter will facilitate the transfer of institutional White House Twitter accounts like @WhiteHouse, @LaCasaBlanca, @POTUS, @VP, @PressSec and @Flotus.

  • "The accounts will not automatically retain their existing followers," the company said in a statement. Instead, Twitter says it will notify followers of those accounts to let them know that the content from those accounts will be archived with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
  • The official accounts will be renamed to reflect the administration they belonged to (i.e. — @POTUS will be renamed @POTUS45). This is a similar process that has been used in years past, but what's different is that the Biden administration will inherit the @POTUS account with zero followers.
  • At the time of this change, Twitter says it will notify followers of those accounts about the archival process, and it will offer those users the choice to follow the Biden administration’s new accounts by Twitter.
  • "For example, people who follow @WhiteHouse will be notified that the account has been archived as @WhiteHouse45 and given the option to follow the new @WhiteHouse account," Twitter said in a statement.

Between the lines: Trump will be able to keep his personal account @realdonaldtrump, which has amassed over 87 million followers, but some of the protections he had as a prominent world leader will not carry over once he leaves office, sources tell Axios.

  • That means he is more susceptible to measures being taken against his account if he repeatedly breaks Twitter’s rules.

Be smart: Twitter has not publicly given a reason for why it's making the change, but the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that it may be in part because the transition of followers from the Obama and Trump administrations experienced tech glitches and some user complaints.

The big picture: The Biden-Harris transition committee has been working with Twitter to ensure all of the administration's cabinet officials and staffers are set up with publicly-facing accounts. Twitter has already started to help set up official accounts for Cabinet nominees like Janet Yellen, Alejandro Mayorkas and Cecilia Rouse. 

Go deeper