A “glitch” in Twitter shortly after the inauguration left many of its users questioning whether their worst fears of a Trump-led era of totalitarianism have been realized. Social media is abuzz with reports of Twitter users finding themselves automatically following President Donald Trump (as well as the First Lady and Vice President) even though they never clicked to do so.
After the Inauguration, Twitter Users Find Themselves Following Donald Trump
Numerous news sites are reporting headlines like “People Aren’t Happy That Twitter ‘Forced’ Them to Follow President Trump,” and “A Twitter glitch autofollowed some users to Trump’s @POTUS by mistake.” Twitter handed off the @POTUS account from Barack Obama to Donald Trump yesterday, as part of the Presidential transfer of power. In theory, they just had to migrate every user who followed “@POTUS” follow “@POTUS44,” which is Mr. Obama’s new handle.
However, something went wrong, as users started finding the newly-minted President Trump’s tweets showing up in their feed. Twitter responded fairly quickly, saying
We are aware of the issue with migrating @POTUS followers and investigating. More soon.
— Twitter Support (@Support) January 21, 2017
The Ghost in the Twitter Machine
About 12 hours after this started, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey posted an explanation:
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
In a lengthy Twitter-stream that follows, Dorsey explains what happened.
If you were following
@POTUS before 12pET, by end of day you’d be following *two* accounts: @POTUS44 (44th Admin) and @POTUS (45th Admin). Two issues were reported during the day which we spent the night confirming and have now corrected:We believe this affected about 560,000 people. This was a mistake, it wasn’t right, we own it, and we apologize. No excuses. This also affected other official Administration accounts like @VP, @WhiteHouse, and @PressSec. We believe we’ve corrected all accounts to reflect your follow/unfollow intent. We’re sorry for the mistakes made here, and thank you all.
Was this just a glitch, or something more sinister?
One of my family members brought this whole story to my attention, when she told me that Donald Trump’s Presidential tweets were showing up in her feed. However, she never followed @BarackObama, @POTUS, or any of the other Obama administration twitter handles. @POTUS simply showed up in her list of favorites this morning.
And she doesn’t seem to be alone, as a quick search for “auto follow POTUS” on Twitter pointed out. Here are just two of many…
@ItsTylerYoung they have been making people auto follow it. I never followed the POTUS account and I had to unfollow it twice yesterday?
— heresmyhappyending (@KianaGh) January 21, 2017
TWITTER MADE ME AUTO FOLLOW POTUS THUS MORNING BC I CHECKED AND I WASN'T FOLLOWING HIM LAST NIGHT
— Alexander (@jagharenalexand) January 21, 2017
Changing millions of people’s accounts at once is always likely to be buggy, even in the best of circumstances. Therefore, it is doubtful that there is anything sinister afoot. But the timing couldn’t have been worse, considering how many people are using today to voice a broad array of fears and concerns about what the new administration may, or may not, do to the rights and values they cherish.