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Biden team starts @PresElectBiden while clashing with Twitter

US President-elect Joe Biden.
US President-elect Joe Biden.JIM WATSON/Photographer: JIM WATSON/AFP

Joe Biden’s transition team flipped the switch on a new Twitter account for the president-elect on Thursday night, while clashing with the social media company over its decision to deny the incoming administration millions of existing White House followers.

Biden’s transition opened @PresElectBiden in order to start building a following for one of the official accounts the new president will inherit at noon on Jan. 20: @POTUS. In a change in practice from 2017, when President Donald Trump entered office, Twitter Inc. plans to reset both the @POTUS and @WhiteHouse official accounts to zero followers for Biden.

The two accounts currently have a massive audience -- nearly 60 million followers combined, though there is overlap. Trump got a head start in 2017 when he inherited about 12 million followers of @POTUS from President Barack Obama’s tenure, plus millions of followers from other official accounts. Though Trump used his personal account, @realDonaldTrump, as his primary social media mouthpiece throughout his presidency, Biden’s aides think it’s unfair Twitter isn’t handing over followers along with the official accounts.

“They are advantaging President Trump’s first days of the administration over ours,” Rob Flaherty, the transition’s digital director who will be director of digital strategy in the Biden White House, said of Twitter. “If we don’t end the day with the 12 million followers that Donald Trump inherited from Barack Obama, then they have given us less than they gave Donald Trump, and that is a failure.”

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Biden’s personal account, @JoeBiden, has about 24 million followers -- tens of millions fewer than @realDonaldTrump, before Twitter permanently suspended the account last week after the president egged on supporters who broke into the U.S. Capitol.

Twitter views the new @PresElectBiden as an accommodation for the incoming president that helps resolve the dispute over the official accounts. Followers of the temporary handle will be transferred to @POTUS on Inauguration Day. A Twitter spokesperson who asked not to be named confirmed the plans, saying the company’s goal was to support the archiving and transition of accounts across administrations.

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Biden’s existing @Transition46 account will take the @WhiteHouse handle at noon Jan. 20. The Biden team is also launching @FLOTUSBiden for the incoming first lady, Jill Biden, @SecondGentleman for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff and @PressSecPsaki for Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary. Harris’s official Senate account, @SenKamalaHarris, will take the @VP handle on Inauguration Day.

Official White House and presidential tweets must be archived at the end of each administration to comply with the Presidential Records Act. Twitter said it is too technically difficult to copy or roll over the millions of followers from the Trump White House accounts to Biden’s official accounts. But two transition officials privately expressed skepticism, pointing to other social media platforms’ handling of the change in administration.

Both Facebook Inc. and its subsidiary Instagram will duplicate the millions of followers currently following the Trump White House accounts to follow new Biden White House accounts. Followers of Biden’s current account will be duplicated to follow the POTUS account while the Trump POTUS account name will changed and saved as an archive

“We’re following the same procedures we used during the transfer between the Obama and Trump administration when President-elect Biden is sworn into office next week,” Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said.

The copying of the White House followers on Facebook and Instagram means that Biden’s administration will start off with a large, built-in audience for the president-elect that will include many people who aren’t Biden supporters -- people his team are eager to reach. The incoming administration will also inherit the followers of the Trump White House’s official YouTube channel.

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“There is value in being able to communicate with an audience that doesn’t agree with us,” Flaherty said.

(Updates with Facebook procedures, quote from company representative, starting in ninth paragraph.)

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.