Everything seemed to be going so smoothly. No, we’re not talking about the vaunted peaceful transfer of the presidency from one elected leader to the next. We’re talking about the handoff of the @POTUS Twitter account from the Obama administration to the Trump team.
Around the time Donald Trump took the oath of office to become the 45th president, Twitter scrubbed Obama-era tweets from @POTUS and transferred them to @POTUS44. But tonight, Twitter is a-twitter that Twitter is making users perhaps unhappy with who now occupies the White House follow @POTUS—even if they unfollowed the account, or never followed it to begin with.
Dear @Support why are you making everyone follow @POTUS who didn’t ask to?
— Patrick McCarron (@McCarron) January 21, 2017
To be sure, if Twitter was actively forcing folks to follow the president even if they didn’t want to, it would be a real problem. (Think Apple inserting that damned U2 album onto every iPhone, except the polarized red state-blue state version.) But according to Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey—whose own notifications are blowing up with complaints from angry users—the problem is merely a technical glitch related to the handoff of the presidential account.
@gwiss @Twitter @red3blog if you unfollowed it will unfollow. A script is replaying all actions. Just taking a long time
— jack (@jack) January 21, 2017
Fair enough. Except this isn’t just any technical glitch. This is a bug pregnant with political meaning. Trump is the first truly Twitter-native president. His intemperate tweets move stock markets and threaten to cause diplomatic incidents. It’s hardly a neutral player in the political upheavals of the moment: the ripple effects of 140 characters are felt at the highest levels of power. So people are understandably sensitive when they find themselves following a president they see as an existential threat to the republic. The problem might just be a bug. But as today’s inauguration shows, social media could not be more consequential in shaping the political dynamics of the 21st century.
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