British Columbia

Donald Trump to take over Barack Obama's @POTUS account

What do you do with a president's social media accounts when the leadership changes? The White House has a unique solution to preserve history in a social media age.

White House says it will archive Obama's tweets and wipe the account clean

U.S. President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump. (Dennis Brack, Jeff Kowalsky/Getty Images, )

Barack Obama is considered by many to be the first U.S. president to harness the power of social media. Since he published his first tweet from @POTUS in May 2015, the Twitter account has accumulated more than 11.6 million followers. 

He was the first president to go live on Facebook's video streaming service, to answer questions on YouTube and to debut an official story on Snapchat for the state of the union. 

But what do you do with a president's social media accounts when the leadership changes?

The White House has a unique solution to manage the first social media handover from the "first social media president" when incoming president Donald Trump takes over the keys on Jan. 20. 

Archiving history for a social media age

Staff from the current administration will wipe clean all of Obama's content from its social media accounts, according to a blog post, so that Trump and his White House will have a clean slate. 

"The account will retain its more than 11 million followers, but start with no tweets on the timeline," the blog post said. 

But the records of Obama's social media presence will be deposited with the National Archives and Records Administration. 

"@POTUS44, a newly created handle maintained by NARA, will contain all of President Obama's tweets and will be accessible to the public on Twitter as an archive of President Obama's use of the account," the White House added.

The same principle will be applied to all social media accounts for the president, vice-president and president's wife. 

The White House says it also plans to make the complete collection of the Obama administration's social media content available to the public and is taking proposals for creative ways to archive and present it. 

"From Twitter bots and art projects to printed books and simple query tools, we're open to it all," the blog post said.

President Obama was the first 'social media president.' (Whitehouse.gov)

Alfred Hermida, a University of British Columbia professor of journalism who studies social media, praised the White House for making a smart decision and archiving the content.  

"We tend to think of social media as ephemeral or transitory — we throw something up, and three or four hours later we've forgotten all about it," Hermida said. "But it's a very forward-thinking idea to archive this and preserve this, and go back and see what the administration at that moment in time was thinking."

In Canada, there isn't an official social media account for the prime minister. Stephen Harper has a Twitter account that used to be known as @pmharpher but was changed to @stephenharper when Justin Trudeau was elected. Trudeau has an account under his own name.

Preserving Obama's social media legacy

Not everyone is happy with a new president taking over an account they have come to associate closely with Obama, and some have threatened to unfollow the account. 

Hermida says the White House's transfer plan is a way to preserve Obama's legacy. 

"The danger of keeping the same account with a new president is that the older tweets gets buried under a wave of new tweets," he said. "This way, you freeze it in time." 

Hermida also expects the president-elect's approach on social media will be very different from Obama's, as it has been all along. 

"He has always portrayed himself as the outsider, battling, essentially, the Washington elite. So his Twitter account is almost this unfiltered stream from the Trump brain," he said. 

Trump has also been very critical of Obama on social media, calling him the "worst president ever," so some might find it strange to see him tweet from the same account.

"It's very telling that in the days leading up to the vote, the keys to his Twitter accounts were taken away by his advisers," Hermida said, referring to reports the Trump campaign had taken control of his account. 

"I suspect, going forward, there is going to be a very conscious effort to mediate that conversation … so it's not just Donald and what he thinks but what the president thinks and speaking on behalf of the country."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tamara Baluja is a producer for CBC Vancouver.

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