With Joe Biden’s inauguration less than a month away, Donald Trump is set to lose the executive privileges and special treatment that he has enjoyed over the past four years, including one tied to something he seemingly values more than his seat at the Resolute Desk: the Twitter account that helped him get there. Despite the offenses against Twitter’s terms of service that Trump has committed while personally using the site in ways that the previous president never did, his title allows him to evade the kinds of suspensions and bans that have led to other right-wing celebrities being permanently kicked off. In 2019, as pressure was mounting on Twitter to act rather than ignore its user guidelines whenever the president was involved, the site clarified its approach, which allows world leaders to keep their platform-violating posts and accounts due to the “clear public interest value” they provide.
Trump has taken full advantage of this exception, even pushing the site’s executives to its apparent limits this year, as Twitter began attaching fact-checks to some of his false election claims and/or forcing users to click through a warning window before they can read the offending posts—a policy not unlike the way family-friendly businesses cover up nudie mags with cardboard sheets.
But when Trump exits the White House, his Twitter account will be at risk of facing severer consequences if he keeps breaking the site’s rules, Twitter spokesperson Nick Pacilio told The Wall Street Journal. Pacilio noted that Trump’s future posts will be removed by Twitter, rather than simply being labeled with a correction. (Both before and since the election, many of the president’s tweets expressing his stolen-election claims have been marked by the statement, “this claim about election fraud is disputed,” a label that Twitter has added on to this week to note, “Election officials have certified Joe Biden as the Winner of the U.S. Presidential election.”)
As for Biden’s relationship with the platform, his administration is already facing an uphill battle that Trump avoided. When Trump first became president, his White House took over the @POTUS account on Twitter and he immediately absorbed all the followers that President Barack Obama had amassed. That digital passing of the torch was done at the Obama team’s urging, which is a courtesy that Trump is not repaying to Biden, who will start with zero followers when he takes over the @POTUS handle, said Rob Flaherty, Biden’s digital director, in a tweet.
“As we did in 2017, Twitter is actively working with the U.S. government to support the transition of Twitter accounts across administrations, so that the incoming Biden administration will have access to institutional White House Twitter accounts,” the company said in a Tuesday statement. The @POTUS account—along with others like @WhiteHouse, @VP, @FLOTUS, and @PressSec—“will not automatically retain their existing followers,” the company added. Current followers will be notified of the change and given an option to follow the new Biden administration accounts.
Biden’s victory could mark a period of depoliticization on the platform, at least compared to the war zone that it turned into at the hands of Trump’s wild, polarizing Twitter habits and his personal account’s more than 88 million followers. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is conducting some political house cleaning during this transitional period, as he is on an unfollowing spree, according to Twitter account @BigTechAlert. Trump, Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump were all reportedly dropped from Dorsey’s timeline this week.
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