President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has criticized Twitter’s decision to not allow the millions of followers of the White House Twitter accounts to be automatically retained when the accounts are handed over to the new administration.
“Twitter’s reluctance to transfer millions of followers from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration unnecessarily politicizes what otherwise should be a routine transfer of communication from one administration to the next,” Biden-Harris transition spokesperson Cameron French told CNN in a statement on Wednesday.
When President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration inherited the millions of followers of each account handed over from the Obama administration. It was the first Twitter transfer of power in US history, and at the time, the @POTUS accounts and @WhiteHouse each had more than 13 million followers.
Nearly four years later, the @POTUS and @WhiteHouse accounts have 33.2 million and 26 million followers, respectively. Trump, a famously prolific tweeter, will retain control of his personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, which has 88.5 million followers on the platform.
“The Obama-Biden Administration built out social media accounts and followings that were handed over to the Trump Administration immediately and fully upon taking office. This wasn’t about politics, it was about ensuring no disruption in the ability of the executive branch of government to directly communicate its policies to the country,” French said in the statement.
He continued, “Especially in times of crisis, the American people deserve access to information in a variety of forms including social media.”
“Twitter has failed to articulate a clear reason for why they have chosen this abrupt reversal in policies, a decision that flies in the face of how other digital platforms are handling this transition,” French said.
A spokesperson for Twitter, Nick Pacilio, told CNN in a statement on Tuesday that the multiple White House accounts being transferred “will not automatically retain their existing followers.”
“Instead, Twitter will notify followers of these accounts to provide context that the content will be archived and allow them the choice to follow the Biden administration’s new accounts,” Pacilio said. “For example, people who follow @WhiteHouse will be notified that the account has been archived as @WhiteHouse45 and given the option to follow the new @WhiteHouse account.”
Pacilio did not provide a reason for the change when asked on Tuesday in a follow-up question by CNN.
On January 20, the day Biden will be inaugurated, Twitter will facilitate the transfer of @WhiteHouse, @POTUS, @VP, @FLOTUS, @PressSec, @Cabinet and @LaCasaBlanca to the Biden administration, according to Pacilio.
Biden transition official Rob Flaherty tweeted on Tuesday that Twitter had informed the transition team that “the Biden administration will have to start from zero,” for the White House accounts.
“In 2016, the Trump admin absorbed all of President Obama’s Twitter followers on @POTUS and @WhiteHouse – at Team 44’s urging,” Flaherty tweeted.
Flaherty said in a later tweet that this was Twitter’s decision, not the President’s. He said in a separate tweet directed at Pacilio that he was “happy to share the email thread where we pushed back and we were told this was unequivocal.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Biden’s transition team on Wednesday.
CNN’s Rishi Iyengar and Seth Fiegerman contributed to this report.