It’s a Twitter user’s worst nightmare: Wake up to find most of your followers gone.
But that’s exactly what will happen on Wednesday to the official presidential accounts on Twitter. No, not @realDonaldTrump — he’s already been banned for life. This is the fate awaiting lesser-known accounts such as @POTUS, @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS and @VP. (POTUS is the official acronym for President of the United States; FLOTUS refers to the First Lady.)
These institutional accounts don’t belong any particular individual — they’re reserved for official government use by those in the current administration. Twitter will transfer them to President-elect Joe Biden once he is officially inaugurated on Wednesday. Minus, that is, most of their followers.
That’s unlike the previous Twitter transition, when then-President Barack Obama’s official accounts were transferred to President Donald Trump with followers intact. This time, these accounts stand to lose tens of millions of followers at Twitter’s dictate. People dropped by these accounts, in addition to those who follow “relevant Biden and Harris accounts” such as @KamalaHarris, will receive notifications that they can follow them.
Biden’s current account — @PresElectBiden — will transform into @POTUS once Biden himself becomes POTUS.
Biden’s team does not appear happy about this. The President-elect’s digital director, Rob Flaherty, tweeted last week that the follower reset is “Absolutely, profoundly insufficient.”
In Twitter’s view, the reset gives users the choice on whether or not to follow the new accounts.
The company says it has not made a decision on whether it will now take this approach during transfers of power. But spokesman Nick Pacilio said it is the policy in other countries.
As for Trump’s @POTUS account? It will be archived as @POTUS45, just as the Obama administration’s account was archived as @POTUS44.
That’s not the case for @realdonaldtrump, though. While it’s been extensively archived by other platforms and researchers, it has vanished from Twitter itself. That alone has raised criticisms from academics and others who believe it should also be part of the public record, easily searchable and accessible to anyone.
Facebook, meanwhile, is sticking to its previous policy of “duplicating” all 11 million followers of the official White House Facebook and Instagram accounts to the new administration. Trump’s POTUS and related accounts, meanwhile, will be archived and Biden will get a new one.