Websites and social media accounts made the transition along with presidential power, with the new administration making its mark right away.
Minutes after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, the digital transition went into effect, with social media accounts and websites switched from Trump-centric to under the Biden team’s control.
As the transition of power occurred on Capitol Hill, so went the social media switchover.
“People on Twitter will be able to watch the transition of power take place in real-time as accounts for the White House, President, Vice President, First Lady and White House Press Secretary inherit their new institutional usernames: @Transition46 will become @WhiteHouse, @PresElectBiden will become @POTUS, @SenKamalaHarris will become @VP, @FLOTUSBiden will become @FLOTUS, and @PressSecPsaki will become @PressSec,” according to a Jan. 14 blog from Twitter officials.
However, unlike the previous transition, the new handles will not inherit followers from the previous administration.
“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,” the Twitter blog states.
During the last four years of the Trump administration, social media has become an important communication tool for federal agencies, covering everything from emergency pandemic information to firings of key administration officials.
“Social media posts from government agencies are not just common updates and advertisements, they are official records subject to laws and regulations,” Justin Herman, global head of public sector for Twilio and founder and former lead of governmentwide social media programs at the General Services Administration, including the U.S. Digital Registry, told Nextgov. “From our first collaborations between the government and social media platforms, there’s been conflict in striking that balance and upholding standards for verification, accessibility and citizen experience inevitable when using third party platforms to conduct official business.”
At the same time the Biden-Harris transition team’s social accounts were switched over, Trump-era Twitter accounts were closed down and archived by the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA.
The Trump administration’s websites were also immediately archived by NARA, such as the White House site, which now resides at trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov.
NARA also turned on the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library website, “which provides information on archived White House websites and social media accounts, as well as information on access to the records of the Trump administration,” the agency said Wednesday in a release.
As the previous administration’s sites were mothballed, the incoming team put their mark on the government’s web presence.
Among the more notable changes was a return of the Spanish language White House website. The Spanish version was taken down early in the Trump administration and never returned, despite promises from White House communications staff.
The new White House website also includes a hidden message for the tech-savvy, transferred over from the transition site. The message—embedded in the site’s source code—suggests anyone reading it would make a good fit on the U.S. Digital Service team.
Most federal websites appeared to make the transition without any significant hiccups, though users pulling up specific sites around noon got 404 errors as things switched over. An hour after inauguration, all federal websites appeared to have adjusted seamlessly, according to stats tracked at analytics.usa.gov.
Tim Lowden, who manages the federal Digital Analytics Program, noted on Twitter that WhiteHouse.gov was once again trackable on the analytics dashboard “for the first time since 2017.”
This change was also noted in an embedded message in the website’s source code, which simply states, “We participate in the US government’s analytics program. See the data at analytics.usa.gov,” in comments before code exporting data to the analytics dashboard.
Herman said he hopes the Biden administration takes the digital transition a step further and increases its use of social media, including encouraging agencies to reap as much information as they offer through these platforms.
“We need to take a lesson learned from COVID response and the rapid transformation of digital services: government agencies aren’t just sharing information on social media, they are primarily relying on notifications and engagements that communicate directly with citizens, through the channels they choose,” he said, suggesting these initiatives should go beyond traditional social media to include text messages, email and chatbots.
“The new administration has the opportunity to lead a re-engagement with social media platforms to improve understanding of the algorithms that govern how official communications are shared, wear the citizen’s shoes to design better communication experiences, and lay down a solid foundation for direct engagement with citizens that allows full trust, transparency and accountability in official information,” Herman said.
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