President Obama joined Twitter yesterday. Though many people assumed long-running account @BarackObama was actually the president—it's Twitter verified, after all—that handle is run, with his approval, by the nonprofit Organizing for Action. Obama himself will now purportedly be tweeting from @POTUS. Here's his first tweet:
In 24 hours, the account has amassed 1.86 million followers and @POTUS has tweeted twice more: a photo of Obama visiting police in Camden, New Jersey, and a jokey reply to Bill Clinton. Behold the world we now live in, my friends:
Just two dudes, chumming it up on Twitter! The "presidents: they're just like us!" aesthetic of it all creates a strange illusion of intimacy. Obama and Clinton are (like most of us on social media, to some extent) practically begging others to develop parasocial relationships. And if Twitter is particularly good at fostering these sorts of connections, it also, like the Internet more generally, invites another sort of mass delusion:
It is the great democratizer; the global water cooler; the one place where you can say anything to anyone and know it'll be okay.
That's Caitlin Dewey at The Washington Post, who scoffs at such naivety:
On the modern Internet, impressions of anonymity and ephemerality are, well … usually fake.
Case in point? After Barack Obama belatedly joined Twitter on Monday — in his official, presidential capacity — dozens of Twitter denizens began tweeting him sex jokes, threats and other unprintable inanities. (We counted nearly 500 tweets dropping f-bombs at POTUS in the past day.)
But the joke's actually on them: Not only does the Secret Service alreadymonitor Twitter for threats, but the White House is archiving each and every thing @POTUS tweeters say.
The @POTUS Twitter bio states this plainly: "Tweets may be archived: http://wh.gov/privacy." But that hasn't stopped the folks of Twitter from going to town @POTUS anyway. Will they come to regret it? Only time will tell. For now, let's just enjoy the kinds of things people feel compelled to tweet at the president…