President collects 5,000 Twitter followers per minute as he launches @POTUS feed, where tweets will come ‘exclusively from him’, White House says
When Bill Clinton quit the White House in January 2001, Twitter was not even a twinkle in anybody’s eye – it took another five years for the revolution in 140 characters to appear.
So on Monday, when the former president learned that his successor-but-one, President Obama, had finally been allowed to set up an official Twitter account under the handle @POTUS, he couldn’t have related to the news personally. He could, however, show interest in the development on behalf of a “friend”.
“askingforafriend”, Clinton said mischievously, as he welcomed @POTUS to the twittersphere. “One question: Does that username stay with the office?”
With his cheeky comment, Clinton also raised a subsidiary question of Twitter decorum which he did not address in his tweet. In the event of his “friend” winning the 2016 presidential election, and indeed going on to inherit the @POTUS Twitter account from Obama, what would happen to Bill himself?
“Hello, Twitter!” Obama said in his first tweet. “It’s Barack. Really! Six years in, they’re finally giving me my own account.”
It’s not that Obama has been silent on social media. In 2008 he demonstrated the power of Twitter as an early adopter on the presidential campaign trail, and his personal feed @BarackObama, where he occasionally tweets personally with the sign-off “bo” – is now approaching 60 million followers.
But the launch of the @POTUS feed at 11.39am ET on Monday was still enough of an occasion to attract followers at a rate of about 5,000 a minute. The White House said the account would serve as a “new way for President Obama to engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him”.
As the banner photo for the account, Obama chose an image from the 50th anniversary commemoration of the bloody Selma march for civil rights. He stands in the picture holding hands with Representative John Lewis, who was beaten by Alabama state troopers in 1965, on one side and Amelia Boynton Robinson, another organiser of the original march who is still going strong aged 103, on the other.
It is unlikely that Obama will use his new social media platform as robustly as does Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The supreme leader is fond of trolling his enemies, not least the US – most recently accusing it of being the “supporter& plotter of terrorism”.
But by deploying the @POTUS account, which the White House reserved several years ago, Obama has gained an official voice as head of state running concurrently alongside his more personal @BarackObama account. A similar two-track approach has been taken by Michelle Obama, who appears on the @FLOTUS account as well as her own personal feed.
If the White House is telling the truth, and Obama really does write his own entries on the new account, that would put him in a very elite club indeed. As a recent study by Burson Marsteller discovered, though 86% of the 193 member states of the United Nations are represented on Twitter, very few world leaders actually tweet themselves.
According to the report, notable exceptions include Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, DonaldTusk, the president of the European Council; Latvian foreign minister EdgarsRinkevics; and Norway’s prime minister, Erna_Solberg.