You are who you follow on Twitter.
Maybe, maybe not. But the list of people, brands, and organizations you choose to track on the social media service does say something about your character, interests, and opinions—perhaps even more so than the list of your own followers because those are not self-selected.
For instance, I am a journalist and, naturally, I follow lots of other writers as well as media organizations like Esquire, Fox Business, and Reuters. (I also follow Neil Young, a tweeting chicken, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, and actress Mindy Kaling, so I’m not sure what the full list says about me.) On the other hand, I have several thousand followers, some of whom I know and interact with but most of whom I have never crossed paths with and never will. (For some reason, I seem to have accrued quite a few followers who use cat pictures or close-ups of cleavage for their profile photos.) In other words, the list of people I follow versus the list of people who follow me probably says more about what I do and who I am—or, at the very least, how I want to be perceived.
But enough about my Twitter account. What does this same list say about the character of our presidents, both incoming and outgoing?
Lots of attention has been given to President-elect Donald Trump’s Twitter feed in particular, but most of it has focused on his tweets and to some extent, his followers—not who he follows. The social media tool has provided our soon-to-be-president with a digital megaphone for his prodigious rants against companies and opponents. A recent poll showed that a large majority of Americans want the President-elect to delete his Twitter account. Those people are out of luck: The businessman-turned-politician has said he will keep his current Twitter profile, even after he is sworn into office on Friday. On top of that, he will inherit the handle @POTUS, set up by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009. Exactly how President-elect Trump plans to use the @POTUS account remains to be seen—his transition team did not respond to an inquiry from Fortune. That said, it’s safe to assume that between those two accounts, we will have at least four years of lots and lots of tweeting from our new president. And for that, you can thank President Obama, the so-called “first social media president,” who paved the way to acceptance of digital and social tools in the White House.
President Obama has also been a prodigious tweeter, though his use of the platform has tended to take a different tone from President-elect Trump. The list of people he follows on the service is also quite different from the incoming commander-in-chief.
Trump follows 42 accounts on Twitter, 17 of which have the name “Trump” in them, from his daughter Ivanka Trump to Trump Golf to Official Team Trump. (Yes, there are a lot of Trump-related Twitter accounts.) Of the rest, several belong to members of his transition team and incoming administration, as well as a handful of media organizations and personalities like the Drudge Report, Sean Hannity of Fox News, and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough.
Obama, meanwhile, follows 72 accounts through his @POTUS handle—at least until Friday’s handoff. These include many members of his administration and more than 20 government agencies like the Labor Department, Homeland Security, and the Agriculture Department. Other than First Lady Michelle Obama’s @FLOTUS account, Obama doesn’t follow anyone else with his own family name. He does, however, follow all three of his alma maters: Occidental, Columbia and Harvard. He also follows two former presidents and pretty much every Chicago-based professional sports team under the sun: the Cubs, Bulls, Bears, White Sox, and Blackhawks.
It’s unlikely that President Obama was the only one to decide who he should follow on Twitter. More probable is that a team of people advised him. Given President-elect Trump’s statements about how he runs his account, it’s likely he had a more single-handed approach to his list.
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That said, it’s unlikely either man is sitting around and actually spending much time reading what the people and organizations they follow on Twitter are saying (though Trump does seem to spend a lot of time interacting with his followers on the site). But again, the lists of who they follow are still indicative of something, even if that something is just the perception of themselves they and their teams want to create.
So what happens starting Friday, when President-elect Trump is sworn in? It will be an unprecedented handover in many ways—yes, partly because it will be the first official handoff of a Twitter account, from one president to another. Whether or not he uses the new account, Trump will inherit @POTUS’s 13.7 million followers, and presumably will also inherit the list of accounts followed by @POTUS until now. Maybe that list will change over time and will better reflect our new president. Or maybe he will decide to follow more people and organizations via his personal Twitter account, now that his job description is going through a massive change. One thing is clear: I will keep following both men. And the tweeting chicken.