For people our age, the Twitter handle POTUS has become synonymous with President Barack Obama. The first “social media President” started his run in office in 2008, just when social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were really starting to gain momentum. This Presidency has grown alongside the growth of social media, so what happens next is pretty new to everyone. But what does happen next?
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is tasked with making sure the digital aspect of the past eight years of Presidency stays publicly available. Usually their job is to make sure all papers, notes, etc. are saved for posterity, but clearly this time around will be a bit different. All POTUS social media accounts will be completely wiped of everything that has been posted over the two terms before they are given over to the new President in January. Before that happens, though, the NARA will move all tweets, instagrams, snaps, etc. to new accounts. For Obama, those accounts will be @POTUS44 for Twitter, and ObamaWhiteHouse on Instagram and Facebook; the same format will follow for the Vice President and First Lady. Additionally, a new website will be built for everything on currently on the White House website, which will be ObamaWhiteHouse.gov.
Over two terms the Obama administration has tweeted about 30,000 times, posted 400 videos to YouTube, and shared around 470,000 petitions. To put this into perspective, when George W. Bush was President he had 12 staff working in the press office; today Obama has 14 staff dedicated solely to his online presence and strategy. This is such a significant change because in the past, the President had to go through mainstream media to speak to the American people. The social media format allows for communications to go (somewhat) directly through the President to the people, all at once, and more immediately.
We’ve seen how the businesses market has shifted over the past several years from one way communications to a two way conversation between businesses and consumers, all with the help and popularity of social media. The world has become a smaller and (we’d like to think) more transparent place because of these platforms. Taking advantage of social media made sense for the Obama administration because they realized this was not only a business trend, but a trend for communications in general. The President of the United States is arguably one of the most important communicators on this planet, and the ability to have such a direct connection with the people you’re leading was such a change from before. I’d say the standards are set much higher now for Presidents to be transparent and responsive to what the people of this country are saying (although this election makes me question that).
With rumors that Trump was banned form using his own Twitter account for the days leading up to last night’s decision, it seems impossible to us that someone like Trump could now hold the keys to the POTUS accounts. But it will happen whether we like it or not. For now we can at least be glad that the NARA is doing everything possible to make sure Obama’s Presidency is kept alive digitally. Let’s hope we can still find solace in the lighthearted memes of Obama and his administration in the future — even though much more is at stake than that.