Tracking the Digital Transition in the White House
As President Donald Trump arrives at the White House to start his term, he faces a very different collection of technology than when former President Barack Obama entered eight years ago. Back then, government PCs sported floppy drives and no president ever personally used Twitter or other form of social media. Indeed, social media access was initially blocked from any White House equipment in 2009. Preparing for the digital transition in the White House is a colossal task, to say the least.
The outgoing Obama administration had lofty goals for the transition. For example, Kori Schulman, Obama’s deputy chief digital officer, promised that “all of the material we’ve published online will be preserved with the NARA [National Archives] just as previous administrations have done with records ranging from handwritten notes to faxes to emails,” in a blog post last fall.
“It’s a trove for historians and journalists,” Technology Business Research analyst Ezra Gottheil told Computerworld. “It’s turned out that it has been important that all past communications were saved for historical, legal and political purposes. And many presidents have felt it was important and have used whatever technology was available to preserve that information.”
Managing the Digital Transition in the White House
Unlike storing paper files, however, maintaining digital content is a challenge, especially since there is so much data on so many different systems. The total collection from all digital platforms spans 122 TB and contains hundreds of millions of individual files.
According to Schulman’s post, the White House team wants to “ensure these materials continue to be accessible on the platforms where they were created, allowing for real-time access to the content we’ve developed.” To that end, anyone can now access the Obama administration’s full archive of social media data, containing over 250,000 records from more than 100 official White House profiles, including the president’s social media accounts, the official White House Facebook page and the First Lady’s Instagram feed. This archive is being maintained by a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation that has preserved other federal and local digital records. But that’s just the tip of the digital iceberg — much of this content will be housed in the Obama presidential library, too.
Finally, the team wants to make sure Trump’s staff can continue to use and develop the digital assets that were created over the past eight years. This presented some unique problems. For example, the @POTUS and @WHITEHOUSE Twitter accounts will both start over on inauguration day with no historical tweets before the Trump team is given access. The 13.3 million followers in each account will remain, however, at least until folks start following and unfollowing them on their own.
A New Home for Obama’s Tweets
Obama will have two new @POTUS44 and @WHITEHOUSE44 accounts to host tweets from his presidency. Similar transitions will occur with the former president’s other social media accounts, which will also start with a clean slate but retain their original followers. For the final phase of the digital transition in the White House, Obama’s WhiteHouse.gov content will be frozen after Jan. 20 and made available at a new URL, ObamaWhiteHouse.gov.
Certainly, Trump’s White House staff has an easier time when it comes to technology thanks to all the innovations that occurred during the Obama presidency. But only time will tell whether Trump will use email, something he said he had avoided before taking office.