Twitter is getting ready to formally recognize Joe Biden as the 46th president on January 20, even as President Donald Trump marches on with his failing, conspiracy-laden crusade to overturn the election results and as many Republicans still refuse to acknowledge them. The social media giant is “actively preparing” to do its part in the transition of digital assets by transferring the @POTUS handle to Biden on Inauguration Day, regardless of whether the president has conceded by then. Twitter will do the same for other accounts, such as @whitehouse, @VP, and @FLOTUS, tied to the presidency, according to Politico.
“As we did for the presidential transition in 2017, this process is being done in close consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration,” a Twitter spokesperson said. The handover, which apparently does not require any information sharing between the outgoing and incoming administrations, involves archiving all existing tweets on accounts related to the presidency, wiping clean those accounts, and transferring them to the incoming Biden team.
Since Election Day, Trump has used social media to push nonstop falsehoods about the election. He has undermined the integrity of the electoral process with baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and false declarations of victory, part of his increasingly desperate effort to reverse his loss to Biden. The warning labels Facebook has attached to Trump’s post-election misinformation are reportedly doing nothing to stop the spread of false content across the platform, a fact the company is apparently resigned to—even as those evidence-free allegations drive engagement. By contrast, Twitter’s warning labels on election-related misinformation and falsehoods have been successful in reducing their spread, the company said in a blog post earlier this month, but the mounting public pressure for Twitter to ban Trump’s account has significantly intensified in the aftermath of the 2020 race. Throughout his presidency, even before undercutting the legitimacy of the election results or, before that, mail-in ballots, the president has used social media to amplify hateful rhetoric, glorify violence, and promote conspiracy theories.
Because he has opted to use his personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, to tweet while president—another norm-defying move—the loss of the @POTUS handle may not matter all that much to Trump. And as a private citizen, Trump will retain control over his personal account after leaving office. But what will likely have a bigger impact on Trump’s social media presence are the stricter rules his accounts will be subject to after Inauguration Day, when the president no longer receives special treatment from Facebook and Twitter. Both social media giants currently take a hands-off approach to Trump’s account: Facebook does not issue a direct fact-check on politicians’ content, and Twitter’s “world leaders” policy allows tweets in violation of the company’s rules to stay up, albeit with a warning label, if the speech is considered in the “public interest.” That will change after Inauguration Day, given that Trump will no longer be a world leader or a politician—that is, until 2024, when he is reportedly talking privately about running again. If Trump were to do so, he would again enjoy the freedom he currently has on Facebook, and likely Twitter, though the company didn’t comment on how it would deal with the hypothetical bid, according to the Washington Post.
But in the meantime, Trump’s social media presence will follow him out of the White House, an online reach that he can use to shape public opinion and peddle misinformation. Trump will leave office with at least 85 million more followers on Twitter, and at least 21 million more on Facebook, than he had when he started his first campaign in 2015, per the Post. And based on the nearly 74 million votes the president has received in this election—a base larger than the population of the United Kingdom—Trumpism, too, will outlast Trump.
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