Social media use by Barack Obama

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Obama in blue suit standing at a podium in front of an audience as man in a light grey suit looks on.
Barack Obama in the first presidential Twitter town hall meeting with service creator and moderator Jack Dorsey looking on

Barack Obama won the 2008 United States presidential election on November 4, 2008. During campaign, by using social media and mobilizing the general public online, Obama was able to raise awareness and financial support of his campaign. Obama used over 15 social networking sites.[1]

The topic of Barack Obama's usage of social media in his political campaigns, including podcasting, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, and YouTube has been compared to the adoption of radio, television, MTV, and the Internet in slingshotting his presidential campaign to success and as thus has elicited much scholarly inquiry.[2] In the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama had more "friends" on Facebook and Myspace and more "followers" on Twitter than his opponent John McCain.[3]

Obama's usage of the wider Internet has often since been compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy's adoption of the radio and television media, respectively, in the history of communication between the White House and the American public.


Twitter activity of Barack Obama from his first tweet in April 2007. Retweets are not included.
Barack Obama embraces the First Lady after she had introduced him at a 2012 election campaign event in Davenport, Iowa. The campaign tweeted a similar photograph from the campaign photographer on election night and many people thought it was taken on election day.

Barack Obama's Twitter account (@BarackObama) is the official account on social networking site Twitter for former President of the United States Barack Obama,[4] and has been used for his election efforts. Obama also used the White House's Twitter account (@WhiteHouse) for his presidential activities. As of August 6, 2022, Obama's account has 132,465,713 followers, making him the owner of the most followed Twitter account.[5] Obama also follows 581,980 accounts, and has posted 16,563 tweets. Well into 2011, it was following the most people of any account on the network and was the third to achieve ten million followers. It is one of only two accounts in the world to be in the top ten in both followers and followees (Twitter friends). As of June 12, 2016, the White House account is also among the two-hundred most followed with nearly three million followers.[6] On May 18, 2015, Obama sent his first tweet from the first Twitter account dedicated exclusively to the U.S. President (@POTUS);[7] his first reply to a tweet directed at him was a tongue-in-cheek exchange with former President Bill Clinton (@billclinton).[8]

Obama has used Twitter to promote legislation and support for his policies.[9] [10][11] Obama is also the subject of various debates on Twitter.[12][13] He had also used his account to respond to the public regarding the economy and employment.[14][15] Based on its rate of adoption, Twitter will have a complementary role to other communication efforts that is more significant in Obama's 2012 presidential campaign than in prior elections.[16]

Statistics on Twitter usage[edit]

Graph of Obama's follower growth

The account is among the top ten worldwide in both followers and followed.[17][18] The account held the record for following the most people.[19][20] On August 13, 2019 at 14:39 PDT Obama's account overtook Katy Perry and has the most number of followers with over 107 million followers,[17][21][5] and followed 612,655 accounts.

During his 2008 campaign the account was intermittently the world's most followed. In May 2010 Obama's Twitter account ranked as the fourth most followed account with about 4 million followers.[22] By May 16, 2011, @BarackObama was followed by 7.4 million people, including twenty-eight world leaders.[23] His account became the third account to reach 10 million followers in September 2011.[19][20]

Account usage history[edit]

Obama "using Twitter" on May 24, 2012 in response to hashtagged questions

@BarackObama was launched on March 5, 2007 at 16:08:25.[24] It is his official account, although he also tweeted through @WhiteHouse which is usually used by the presidential administration, while @BarackObama was for his election campaign staff.[25] @WhiteHouse predates the Presidency of Barack Obama, since it was created on April 21, 2007.[26] Following the 2008 United States presidential election, the Democratic National Committee was believed to have taken over the account and in a speech in November 2009, Obama stated "I have never used Twitter", although he had over 2.6 million followers.[27][28] The @BarackObama account is "run by #Obama2012 campaign staff. Tweets from the President are signed -bo."[29][30] Although his staff does most of his tweeting, Obama became active on the account in June 2011, tweeting under his own initials, beginning with the father's day message "Being a father is sometimes my hardest but always my most rewarding job..."[20][25]

three people in dark suits thumbtyping on BlackBerry's while seated
Audience members at the July 6, 2011 Twitter Town hall meeting tweeting questions to Barack Obama

Obama has at various times held public forums in which he fielded questions posted on Twitter. On July 6, 2011, he participated in what was billed as "Twitter Presents Townhall @ the White House".[14][31] The event was held in the East Room of the White House and was streamed online. Only written questions on the site about the economy and jobs were accepted for oral response by Obama.[32] His average responses were over 2000 characters and when Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner tweeted "Where are the jobs?" to the hashtag #AskObama,[33] it took Obama 3111 characters to respond.[34] The event was moderated by Twitter executive Jack Dorsey, and Obama started the session with a sample tweet to himself through @WhiteHouse that said "in order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo".[35] Dorsey said afterwards that Twitter received over 110,000 #AskObama-hashtagged tweets.[36] Boehner was quite active with his questions from the outset.[35] Some in the media proposed May 24, 2012, as the date when Obama became the first President to respond to questions on Twitter.[15][37]

On July 29, 2011, during the United States debt-ceiling crisis, the account lost over 40,000 followers when the president asked "Americans Friday to call, email and tweet Congressional leaders to 'keep the pressure on' lawmakers in hopes of reaching a bipartisan deal to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit ahead of an August 2 deadline."[10] During the day, he sent about 100 tweets that included the Twitter accounts of Congressional Republicans.[38] Later in 2011, Obama used Twitter again to try to encourage the people to voice their opinion on legislation when he was attempting to pass the American Jobs Act.[11]


On January 5, 2009, Obama's campaign account @BarackObama was among several celebrity accounts that were hacked and domain hijacked.[39][40] The hacker phished the password of a Twitter administrator's account, gaining access to other accounts to which he then changed the passwords, and subsequently offered access to accounts upon request at Digital Gangster. The case eventually led to a non-financial settlement with the Federal Trade Commission by Twitter.[41]

On July 4, 2011, Obama was the subject of a death hoax on Twitter when Fox News' Politics Twitter account (@foxnewspolitics) was hacked. The hackers were unfamiliar with Twitter and started their hoax messages with @BarackObama, thus only making the message appear in the Twitter timelines of those who follow both Fox News and the Presidential account. Eventually the hackers switched to hashtag references, increasing the visibility of their activities.[42] Fox News acknowledged the breach and apologized.[43]

Significance of Twitter in campaigning[edit]

Barack Obama in a blue suit typing on computer at a podium while a white man in a light grey suit looks on
Obama and Jack Dorsey during the July 6, 2011 Twitter town hall meeting

Although both Obama and his Republican adversary Mitt Romney were active on Twitter and Twitter has "become an essential tool for campaigns", the Pew Research Center has determined that only about 13% of American adults had joined the site. Thus, Twitter's impact on the election was only "one slice of an enormous communication effort". Its impact grew significantly that as many tweets are sent in 8 minutes as were sent on all of Election Day 2008.[16] As of May 25, 2010, 48% of Obama's followers resided outside of the United States and 47% were female. At that time, the top five industries in which his followers were employed were

  1. Hospitality,
  2. Law,
  3. Marketing/Public Relations,
  4. Fashion and
  5. Education.[44]

Measuring social influence has become a new consulting career opportunity.[45] According to discussants on the PBS NewsHour, Obama has 5,000 times as much social media influence as Romney;[46] however, according to The Hill, Obama only has 12 times as much social media influence.[47]

Other social media platforms[edit][edit]

The official website of Barack Obama is It is run by Chris Hughes, one of the three co-founders of Facebook, and has been described as a "sort of social network".[2] Steve Spinner, a member of Obama's National Finance Committee, says that while previous campaigns have used the internet none had yet taken full advantage of social networking features.[2] The website included online tools that allowed members to identify neighbors that the Obama campaign thought might be potential backers and then report back on any resulting conversations.[48]

Members of the site could also create blogs, post photos, and form groups through the website,[48] but each member must publish limited biographical profile and no more than one photo.[49] According to Hughes, during the 2008 campaign, over two million accounts were created for the website to "organize their local communities on behalf of Barack Obama".[48][49] He estimates that more than 200,000 events were organised through the website.[48] Moreover, 400,000 articles were written in blogs. Four hundred thousand videos that supported Obama were posted into YouTube via the official website. Thirty-five thousand volunteer groups were created. Thirty million dollars were spent by 70,000 people into their own fundraising webpages. In the final four days of the 2008 campaign, three million phone calls were made through the website's internet virtual phone.[49]


President Barack Obama made a surprise half-hour visit to the social news website Reddit on August 29, 2012. Using an Ask Me Anything (AMA) format, the President garnered 3.8 million page views on the first page of his self-post. Users left 22,000 comments and questions for the President,[50] 10 of which he answered. The answered questions' topics included more serious topics, from the most difficult decision made during his first term to a plan to end the corruption of money in politics. Some included a more lighthearted focus, like the recipe for the White House beer.

In response to Obama's use of Reddit, many noted the bypassing of generally established channels of mainstream media in use during the 2012 campaign in favor of less-filtered and closer forms of communication.[51] When asked why Obama logged on to Reddit, one campaign official responded "Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit."[52] By using a newer, underused media channel like Reddit, Obama's campaign acknowledged a largely unaddressed demographic of unlikely voters on social internet boards.


The Barack Obama Facebook (@barackobama) is currently the official Facebook for the former president and was his Facebook during the campaign trail. Looking back onto the election, Obama was able to mobilize the public through social media, especially Facebook. In fact, by the peak of the Obama campaign, his Facebook has around 3 million friends.[53] Marc Anderson, board member of Facebook and founder of Netscape, said “Other politicians I have met with are always impressed by the Web and surprised by what it could do, but their interest sort of ended in how much money you could raise. He was the first politician I dealt with who understood that the technology was a given and that it could be used in new ways.”[54] The use of effective social media campaigns, especially on Facebook, were developed and used under the Obama campaign. The transformation of social media sites into capital gain can show how he was so effective in mobilizing voters and volunteers. “By converting everyday people into engaged and empowered volunteers, donors and advocates through social networks, email advocacy, text messaging and online video. The campaign’s proclivity to online advocacy is a major reason for his victory.”[1] Through Facebook, Obama was able to create a sense of ethos between the voters and his personal campaign. This created a sense of trust, support and effective campaigning that made his campaign so successful.  

In March 2007, the Barack Obama team created an interconnection between a user's account in Obama's official website and Facebook account, so a user may publish activities via sending postings from one to another.[55][clarification needed] In 2008, the Obama presidential campaign spent $643,000 out of its $16 million Internet budget to promote his Facebook account.[49] On June 17, 2008, after Hillary Clinton ended her campaign, number of followers of Barack Obama's Facebook account increased to one million.[56] Meanwhile, in addition to Facebook accounts of Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, the Obama team created ten more Facebook accounts for "specific demographics, such as Veterans for Obama, Women for Obama, and African Americans for Obama."[55]


The topic of social media regarding presidential campaigns come with a bit of hesitation to the general public. The concept of micro-targeting is the use of personal information, garnered from online social media sources and public records, builds profiles for that of the voting demographic. Through Obama's successful online presence, his supports and online friends were able to build an incredible amount of information toward his campaign that helped micro-targeting and social media strategy. This received a lot of criticism under the Trump administration due to his policy use of Cambridge Analytica, which a Britain-based company who provides information and strategies for micro-targeting and other tactics along those lines. “Obama's 2008 campaign was famously data-driven, pioneered micro-targeting in 2012, talking to people specifically based on the issues they care about," Cambridge Analytica said on Twitter.[57] The firm, under the Trump Campaign, gathered over 50 million profiles from Facebook to gain information about Facebook users. The Obama campaign team member Micheal Simon, responded to allegations of similar actions with “We didn't steal private Facebook profile data from voters under false pretenses. OFA (Obama's campaign) voluntarily solicited opinions of hundreds of thousands of voters. We didn't commit theft to do our groundbreaking work."[57]

See also[edit]


  • Hendricks, John Allen; Denton, Robert E. Jr. (2010). Communicator-in-Chief: How Barack Obama Used New Media Technology to Win the White House. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-4107-6.
  • Baumgartner, Jody C.; Morris, Jonathan S. (2010). "Who Wants to Be My Friend?". Communicator-in-Chief. pp. 51–66.
  • Harfoush, Rahaf (2009). Yes We Did: An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand. Berkeley, California: New Riders—Peachpit. ISBN 978-0-321-63153-4.


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External links[edit]