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Twitter transfers White House accounts to Biden: What you need to know

The accounts didn't automatically inherit followers from the prior administration, but users received a notification about the transfer.

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Twitter is, among other things, a digital megaphone for politicians and government officials.

Angela Lang/CNET

Joe Biden's presidency is social media official. On Wednesday, Twitter transferred the White House accounts to the new presidential administration. That's important because politicians and government officials use these accounts to reach millions of Americans with the click of a button. 

"Institutional White House Twitter accounts have now been transitioned from the Trump administration to the Biden administration," Twitter said in a statement Wednesday.

The transfer of the official presidential Twitter accounts first happened in 2017 when Barack Obama, the first president to use Twitter, departed and Donald Trump took office. Unlike 2017, though, Biden didn't automatically inherit the followers from the prior administration, a change his team wasn't happy about. 

Earlier this month, Biden's team launched a new Twitter account, @PresElectBiden, which had more than 940,300 followers on Tuesday. Slightly before noon Wednesday, that account became @POTUS. The @POTUS account currently has 3.5 million followers.

"There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That's why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families," Biden said in his first tweet from @POTUS.

Here's what you need to know about the social media transfer of power:

What happened to the current White House accounts used by the Trump administration?

You can still view the old tweets posted by the Trump administration, but they're archived online. The usernames of these accounts changed so people know the handover happened. When Obama left office in 2017, for example, @POTUS became @POTUS44 and you can still view tweets from that account. The same process happened with the Trump administration, whose tweets were publicly archived under the name @POTUS45. Trump also had a personal Twitter account he preferred to use, but that was pulled down by the company for violating its rules against glorifying violence, in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.

The Trump administration Twitter accounts that are now publicly archived include @WhiteHouse45, @VP45, @PressSec45, @FLOTUS45 and @SecondLady45.

How did Twitter transfer the presidential accounts to Biden's team?

Biden's transition team was already using Twitter before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, but the accounts had different names. Those usernames changed when Biden officially took over the White House. @Transition46 became @WhiteHouse, @PresElectBiden became @POTUS, @SenKamalaHarris became @VP, @FLOTUSBiden became @FLOTUS, and @PressSecPsaki became @PressSec. The social media company also created a new account, @SecondGentleman, for Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Kamala Harris, the first woman ever to be elected US vice president. 

In her first tweet from the @VP account, Harris tweeted "Ready to serve."

Did these new White House accounts automatically retain followers from the prior administration?

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Twitter alerted users of the new White House account with this notice at the top of their timelines. 

Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

No. Twitter said in a blog post before the inauguration that users who followed these White House accounts or the accounts used by Biden's transition team would be notified about the transfer and given the option to follow the accounts used by the new administration. Twitter users got an alert Wednesday that said, "There's a new @WhiteHouse. Follow the latest from the new @WhiteHouse."

The company also added a notice at the top of the site, alerting users to the change. Twitter listed these accounts in an online hub for US elections, so you can find them there as well.

Why didn't Twitter automatically transfer followers of the White House accounts to Biden?

Twitter didn't give a reason in its blog post about the company's inauguration plans. The Wall Street Journal noted in December that some users complained about the transfer process during the 2017 handover of White House accounts, which was marred by some technical problems.

Biden's team, though, wasn't happy with Twitter's decision because it could limit the number of people the new president will be able to reach. Rob Flaherty, the digital director for Biden's presidential campaign, said in a tweet in late December that Biden's team pushed back against the idea but was "told this was unequivocal."

The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. CNET also reached out to Twitter in December about the rationale behind the decision but wasn't given an explanation.

The new @WhiteHouse account currently has 2.5 million followers. The White House account used by the Trump administration, which is now archived as @WhiteHouse45, had 26 million followers.