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What Happens to Obama’s Social Media Accounts When He Leaves Office?

The White House and National Archives have come up with a strategy to smoothly transition the POTUS Twitter and other communications channels

(The White House)
smithsonian.com

There’s few people who would quibble with the idea that Barack Obama was the first “Social Media President.” Colin Daileda at Mashable points out that president No. 44 was the first to use Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Vimeo, MySpace and Instagram. He appeared on Zach Galifianakis​’ digital mock talk show "Between Two Ferns" and was interviewed by YouTube stars after his last State of the Union address in January.

Kori Schulman​, Deputy Chief Digital Officer for the White House, writes in a blog post that Obama, as well as the First Lady and Vice President Joe Biden, have produced nearly 30,000 tweets, thousands of hours of video footage, and more than 470,000 We the People petitions. That’s why the White House has laid out a detailed strategy for preserving Obama’s digital legacy as well as the papers, emails and handwritten notes created by his administration.

According to Schulman, much of the digital preservation effort will be managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The goal is to preserve the information while still keeping it in its original format and publicly available.

For instance, the Twitter handle @POTUS will be wiped clean and will be handed over to the incoming president on inauguration day, along with its 11 million followers. Obama’s tweets will be moved and maintained @POTUS44 where they will remain publically accessible indefinitely. The same will happen for @FLOTUS and @VP. The Twitter accounts of White House staffers will also be handed over to NARA.

Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post points out that in the past four years “the White House has essentially become its own media production company.” She reports that White House staff have posted more than 400 YouTube videos, produced almost 275 infographics for WhiteHouse.gov and social media, and have managed channels on site like Buzzfeed and Pinterest. In fact, Obama’s Office of Digital Strategy alone has 14 staffers, more than George W. Bush’s entire 12-member press office or Obama's when he first took office.

“Presidents have always wanted to talk to all Americans at once, have them pay attention, and have them believe what they are saying,” Stanford law professor Nate Persily, who studies political communication tells Eilperin. “With the new platforms, not only can President Obama speak directly to ‘the people,’ but he can also target particular messages to audiences that ordinarily would not be paying attention.”

Schulman reports that Obama’s Facebook and Instagram accounts will also be wiped clean and the contents transferred to Instagram.com/ObamaWhiteHouse and Facebook.com/ObamaWhiteHouse. Similar housekeeping will apply to accounts at Medium, Tumblr, YouTube and other social media platforms. Obama’s White House website will transfer to ObamaWhiteHouse.gov while over 2 million photos taken during his eight-year tenure will be retained by the National Archives.

It’s not known if the incoming administration will continue the tradition of We the People petitions, an initiative launched in 2011 in which the administration promised to officially respond to any petition that received at least 100,000 signatures (petitions have included the suggestion to build an $850 quadrillion Death Star and to reduce gun violence). Those 470,000 petitions are being archived by NARA and the site will also transfer to the future POTUS.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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