As President Biden completed his transition into the White House, several social media companies were completing their own transitions of highly followed official accounts.
But the handoff wasn’t as seamless as it was four years ago, when President Barack Obama turned over the keys of much of his social empire to President Donald J. Trump.
In 2017, Mr. Obama passed on official Twitter accounts to Mr. Trump, along with the millions of followers the accounts had gathered. Since then, Mr. Trump’s digital team used the accounts as megaphones for his administration’s agenda and built the follower numbers higher: before Mr. Biden’s inauguration, @POTUS had 33.3 million followers, @WhiteHouse had 26 million, @FLOTUS had 16.4 million and @VP had 10.3 million. The @POTUS account alone had nearly tripled in followers under Mr. Trump.
But this year, instead of simply handing them over as it has before, Twitter did not carry over the followers of each account as Mr. Biden assumed control. Instead, accounts with much smaller followings, mostly created last week, were to be transformed into the official ones.
A little after noon on Wednesday, @WhiteHouse shared its first tweet under the Biden administration, to 1.6 million followers. “Today, the work begins,” it said. Then, just after 12:30 p.m., Mr. Biden issued his first tweet from the @POTUS account. “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,” he wrote. “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.”
The transitions meant that the Biden digital operation would largely have to build new followings from scratch, instead of getting a head start from its predecessor as Mr. Trump had. Twitter said it would alert users to the new accounts.
“People on Twitter who previously followed institutional White House Twitter accounts, or who currently follow relevant Biden or Harris Twitter accounts, will receive in-app alerts and other prompts that will notify them about the archival process, as well as give them the option to follow the new administration’s Twitter accounts,” Twitter said in a blog post.
Mr. Biden’s digital takeover also led to the demise of the webpage for a report from Mr. Trump’s 1776 Commission (the site that had hosted a PDF of the report reads “Not Found” in plain font) and the press office’s list of last-minute pardons and commutations.
The 1776 report, which distorted the history of slavery in the United States and called for a “patriotic education,” was quickly derided by historians as misleading and shoddily produced — the 18-member commission included no professional historians, but a number of conservative activists, politicians and intellectuals.
Jan. 20, 2021, 5:00 p.m. ET
The Biden administration added a prominent section about climate change in its section about the administration’s priorities. And in a nod to greater gender inclusivity, the contact form has added an optional category to include preferred pronouns. Options include “she/her,” “he/him,” “they/them,” “other” and “prefer not to share.” The site also now includes a variety of accessibility components, such as high-contrast and large-text modes.
The revamped site also offers a full Spanish translation. In 2017, the Trump administration eliminated the Obama administration’s Spanish version then promised to bring it back. But the Spanish-language site was unavailable well into the Trump presidency, The Associated Press reported.
The tweets on each account will be archived under different names. The Trump administration’s tweets under @POTUS, for example, will be transferred to @POTUS45.
Mr. Trump regularly used Twitter to make policy announcements and to fire some of the people who worked for him, drawing new followers by the millions even as he spread misinformation about the voting process and election security,
The National Archives will preserve all of Mr. Trump’s social media activity, including deleted tweets from @POTUS and his personal account, @realDonaldTrump. The personal account, which the president used as an unfiltered platform for policy announcements, airing grievances and fleeting thoughts that often had significant global ramifications, remains inaccessible after he was suspended for provoking violence.
Mr. Biden could also continue to tweet under his personal account, @JoeBiden, which has 24.3 million followers.
Rob Flaherty, who will be the director of digital strategy in the Biden administration, told Bloomberg News last week that Twitter’s failure to pass over the followers of the official accounts was unfair.
“They are advantaging President Trump’s first days of the administration over ours,” he said. “If we don’t end the day with the 12 million followers that Donald Trump inherited from Barack Obama, then they have given us less than they gave Donald Trump, and that is a failure.”
The transition will be less complicated on other social networks, which said they would use the same processes they used four years ago.
On Facebook, the followers of the White House account was to be passed over to Mr. Biden, said Kevin McAlister, a Facebook spokesman. The seven million followers of the Joe Biden account would be duplicated to the POTUS page, which has 6.5 million followers and had not been used since May 2018.
The Trump White House account was to be renamed so it can be archived, Mr. McAlister said.
A YouTube spokeswoman said the 1.87 million subscribers of the White House channel would be passed over to the Biden administration.
Snapchat was to transfer the “whitehouse” account, along with its 803,000 subscribers, to President Biden at 12:01 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, a Snap spokesperson said.
That means on those sites, users who had signed up to follow news from the Trump administration would soon be seeing news from Biden’s, something Mr. Flaherty said he was looking forward to.
“There is value in being able to communicate with an audience that doesn’t agree with us,” he told Bloomberg News.