Illustration of hands releasing Twitter bird; White House in background (State Dept./Doug Thompson)
(State Dept./Doug Thompson)

If you’ve followed President Obama on Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms, you might wonder what’s going to happen to those accounts on January 20, 2017, when he leaves office and Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th U.S. president.

“The Obama administration began at the same time a lot of social media networks were taking off,” said Macon Phillips, who served as director of digital strategy at the White House. (Phillips is now coordinator of the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces ShareAmerica.)

This means that the White House is navigating new waters when it comes to archiving all those tweets and Facebook posts.

The U.S. has a long tradition of peaceful transition of power between administrations and preserving presidential records. The process the White House will follow for Obama’s social media is in line with that tradition.

“The current accounts with all of their followers will be handed off to the incoming president, just like the fleet of cars, just like the pens and paper,” Phillips said. “To the extent that the incoming administration finds those assets valuable, they should have unfettered access to them.”

On January 20, the @POTUS handle on Twitter — along with its 11 million followers — will be made available to incoming president Donald Trump with no tweets on its timeline. The National Archives and Records Administration will maintain the newly created handle @POTUS44 as a publicly available archive of President Obama’s Twitter timeline. This will include his tweets and those addressed to him. Similar archives will preserve the content from Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.

“The communications of the public to the prez are a great snapshot of public attitudes and sentiments at any given time,” Phillips said. “I think in 20 or 40 years it’ll be very interesting to understand not only what President Obama was doing at a given point, but also what he was hearing from the people.”