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Biden is about to become @POTUS: How the social media transition of power will unfold

At the moment Joe Biden is sworn in as the next president of the United States, another transition of power will take place on social media.

On Wednesday, Biden and his team will gain access to a long list of official government accounts across the major social media platforms, including the @POTUS account on Twitter. With the tap of a button, the Biden administration will inherit a digital megaphone with the potential to make news and shape the public image of the US government.

The transfer of these official accounts, which include not just those representing Biden and the White House but nearly every arm of government, has emerged as an important aspect of the broader transition of power, especially after Twitter became the favored online platform of President Donald Trump.

“It certainly has a big symbolic value,” said David Lazer, a political science and computer sciences professor at Northeastern University. “The centrality of Twitter to Trump’s brand and identity has made the moment a lot more significant.”

The president used his personal Twitter account, @realdonaldtrump, to make major policy announcements, fire staffers, attack critics and spread misinformation. His account was permanently suspended earlier this month following the deadly insurrection at the Capitol.

In addition to the @POTUS account, which was created during the Obama administration, Twitter will transfer @WhiteHouse, @VP, @FLOTUS, and @PressSec to the new administration. Twitter also created a new account, @SecondGentleman, for Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff.

It marks only the second such transition between US presidential administrations for Twitter, which launched in 2006. But unlike the transition four years ago, the Biden administration will not inherit the tens of millions of followers on each account. Instead, people on Twitter who previously followed official White House Twitter accounts or who currently follow “relevant” Biden or Harris Twitter accounts, will receive in-app alerts and other notifications about the archival process and the option to follow the new accounts, the company said in a blog post.

The decision prompted criticism from the Biden camp, which said it “unnecessarily politicizes what otherwise should be a routine transfer of communication from one administration to the next.” As of Tuesday night, the @POTUS account had about 33 million followers, while the @FLOTUS and @VP accounts had 16 million and 10 million, respectively.

Twitter’s approach stands in contrast to other social networks such as Snapchat and YouTube, which said the Biden administration would keep the current followers on the respective White House accounts.

Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram will transfer accounts on both platforms, such as the POTUS and FLOTUS Facebook pages and the White House Instagram account, to Biden’s team. These platforms will also duplicate the followers on Joe Biden’s Facebook page and Instagram account to the official POTUS page and account.

While the Biden team may not inherit all of the Twitter followers, it won’t be starting totally from scratch. Biden’s @Transition46 account on Twitter will become @WhiteHouse, the @PresElectBiden account will become @POTUS, @SenKamalaHarris will become @VP, @FLOTUSBiden will become @FLOTUS, and @PressSecPsaki will become @PressSec.

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