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Twitter Accidentally Made Half a Million People Follow Trump

You might want to check if you’re following @POTUS on Twitter.

by Sarah Emerson
Jan 21 2017, 3:26am

Image: Wikipedia/Gage Skidmore

Update, Jan. 21, 2017: Today, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed users' claims that Twitter had automatically followed the @POTUS account (at this point, under the authorship of President Donald Trump) for them. Approximately 560,000 people were affected by a flaw in the script used to migrate followers to the new archival handles.

"If you were following @POTUS before 12pET, by end of day you'd be following *two* accounts: @POTUS44 (44th Admin) and @POTUS (45th Admin)," Dorsey tweeted.

Dorsey apologized for the mistake, and said Twitter has worked to correct the issue. He did add, however, that the Obama Administration felt it was fair to automatically migrate followers after the transition, since @POTUS is an institutional account.

The original story as published is below.

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One of the most visible transfers of executive power happened today on Twitter. The official @POTUS account was handed off to President Trump, and former-President Obama re-assumed his personal handle, @BarackObama. (Trump predictably continued to tweet from his personal account long into the inauguration, however.)

But some Twitter users are complaining that despite never following @POTUS in the first place, the presidential handle is suddenly showing up in their timelines. Somehow, they claim, Twitter had automatically followed it for them.

"I specifically UNFOLLOWED this account earlier today. Yet now I am following it again without having resubscribed," one user tweeted.

"@POTUS turned up in my feed despite me not following, willingly or otherwise," said another person. "Not a promoted tweet. Very strange. Blocked!"

A spokesperson for Twitter told Motherboard they couldn't comment on these specific claims, but said that post-inauguration, Twitter automatically migrated the followers of @POTUS over to the newly created @POTUS44 account, which acts as an archive for President Obama's tweets.

The same was done for @FLOTUS44, belonging to Michelle Obama, and @VP44, belonging to former-Vice President Biden.

As you can see, both versions have somewhat similar follower counts.

This doesn't explain why some people who claim to have never followed @POTUS in the first place are now doing so. Since Twitter wouldn't verify whether a glitch caused this to happen, we can't say for sure whether this is the case. But the migration of millions of users is no simple feat, and perhaps the auto-following went both ways in some cases.

It's also curious that Twitter kept mum about following accounts on behalf of its users. This isn't something the company has done before, but Twitter is a relatively new medium for presidents, and this is the first time handles ever needed to be transitioned from one administration to another.

Other federal agencies also had issues with Twitter today, albeit slightly less technical. At one point, the National Park Service was retweeting subtle inauguration shade aimed at President Trump, like a comparison of Trump's significantly smaller attendance numbers compared to Obama's own swearing-in. According to a report from Gizmodo, however, someone within the agency decided to muzzle the account, and all tweets have been suspended until further notice.

Are we likely to see more Twitter snafus in the coming days? We're only four tweets into the Trump White House at the time of writing, and so far they're just as dignified as when Obama had @POTUS. The only problem is the account's horribly low resolution header image, which is an embarrassment to this great nation.

Update: The original headline for this story was "The Transfer of Government Twitter Accounts Wasn't So Peaceful." We have updated this story after Twitter confirmed that it made more than half a million users follow @POTUS when Trump took office.