Twitter forces people to follow @POTUS, @FLOTUS & @VP accounts

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Today, the United States gained a new President, First Lady and Vice President. Those people inherited the official Twitter accounts of their predecessors. In turn, some of those not supportive of the new administration unfollowed those accounts. Or thought they did. As it turns out, Twitter has caused many people to follow these accounts again, against their will.

I’m just one of several examples. Yesterday, I stopped following the @POTUS account that was used by President Barack Obama (who is now at @BarackObama) before @POTUS switched to President Donald Trump today.

I also stopped following the @FLOTUS account that was used by Michelle Obama (who is now at @MichelleObama) before @FLOTUS switched to Melania Trump today.

Vice President Joe Biden (now at @JoeBiden) had been using @VP, which I also dropped yesterday. The @VP account is now used by Mike Pence.

Today, I found I’m following all those accounts again. I definitely dropped them, but Twitter decided I should keep following them anyway. I’m not the only one. Reports of others who have been forced to follow these accounts are wide-spread on Twitter:

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Despite blocking, still following

At least two people even blocked the @POTUS account only to find today they were still made to follow it even though it remained blocked:

.@dannysullivan I BLOCKED @POTUS this morning, and yet I've just returned to find the account auto re-followed… but still blocked. pic.twitter.com/e3LKepPI0M

— KurtJMac (@kurtjmac) January 21, 2017

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@dannysullivan I even had them on BLOCK and twitter forced undid that and had me following them again.

— NomdeB (@NomdeB) January 21, 2017

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Claims to have been added despite never following

Some even say they were never following some of these accounts before but now are:

Twitter signed me up to follow @potus without my consent. I didn't even follow the previous president's account. That's terrifying.

— Rob Daviau (@robdaviau) January 21, 2017

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.@Twitter I didn't want to follow POTUS, FLOTUS, AND VP, BUT YOU AUTOMATICALLY FOLLOWED THEM FOR ME. NO. STOP IT.

— Kristin Susan (@KristinSusanL) January 21, 2017

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So, I got automatically added to follow POTUS, FLOTUS and VP. That's BS. Check it in case you did too and don't want to follow!

— Lynnette Kunkle (@LynnetteKunkle) January 21, 2017

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@Support how is it "migrating" when I NEVER followed that account?

— Wendy Brandes (@WendyBrandes) January 21, 2017

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Twitter’s CEO says situation being investigated

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been busy replying to people about the situation, to one with a confusing response that somehow there might be a “replay” of unfollows:

@GlennF @edbott @POTUS if you unfollowed it will replay. Just taking time.

— jack (@jack) January 21, 2017

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And that Twitter is looking into what’s happened:

@sarahkendzior @NPR looking into this now

— jack (@jack) January 21, 2017

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And that people who never followed those accounts at all shouldn’t now be following them, despite the reports of this happening:

@dannysullivan @carynrose @sarahkendzior @POTUS that shouldn't happen. Investigating

— jack (@jack) January 21, 2017

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Twitter support tweets of “migration” issue

Twitter’s official support account also says it’s checking on the “migration” problem:

We are aware of the issue with migrating @POTUS followers and investigating. More soon.

— Twitter Support (@Support) January 21, 2017

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To be clear, there should be no “migration” of followers. There’s a change of who controls these accounts. But the account holders cannot control who actually follows them or choses not to.

What likely happened

My best guess with all this talk of a “migration” glitch is that Twitter goofed because of a new account it created to archive all the old tweets from President Obama.

Obama was the first president to use the @POTUS account. For historical reasons, everything he tweeted there has been archived to a new @POTUS44 account. It looks like Twitter also allowed this brand-new account to inherit all the people who were following @POTUS.

There was no good reason for this to be done. It’s an archived account that will never tweet again. So why was it given 14 million followers? Obama himself has shifted to using his aforementioned @BarackObama account.

When Trump took over @POTUS, he was given a fresh slate in terms of all previous tweets by Obama having been removed. However, he kept all the followers that @POTUS had. And perhaps Twitter tried to copy some of those followers over from the new @POTUS44 account.

If that was the “migration” that’s being discussed, it might have caused those who previously followed @POTUS to follow it again, since it was effectively like restoring a backup from a previous time. However, it doesn’t explain why some people say they’re now following @POTUS despite never following it before.

And when Dorsey tweets about a “script” to “replay” actions, it sounds like Twitter figured it would deal with the situation of restoring from an outdated backup by also keeping track of all the new actions (such as follows and unfollows) from when that snapshot was made.

Right now, Twitter is probably repeating all the follows and unfollows from the time it created the snapshot of @POTUS about a day ago, up until Trump took over the account. That sounds like it’s taking time to process — and in the meantime, a ton of new actions continue.

In short, it’s a mess that would never have happened if Twitter either had left the @POTUS account alone with a pure inherit of all followers it had or zeroed out the account of followers and let the new president earn his own followers.

But Twitter might have had no easy alternative. Behind the scenes, it probably changed the name of @POTUS to @POTUS44 to make the snapshot that was kept offline. Then when the transition happened, it likely renamed @POTUS to @POTUS44 and used that snapshot. Then it likely created a new account called @POTUS in order to have no tweets on it — but copied cover all the followers from @POTUS44 so that @POTUS could keep on with the followers it once had.

We have a message out to Twitter about what’s happened and will update if we hear back.

Postscript: Dorsey has now posted a series of tweets explaining that people who had followed @POTUS44 after a certain time were accidentally made to follow @POTUS and that some who unfollowed @POTUS were marked to follow it again. He said the issue impacted about 560,000 people:

All: we investigated what happened here, and we made some mistakes (which have been corrected). Some context first. https://t.co/W1n3Xs6LaN

— jack (@jack) January 21, 2017

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