Why we suddenly follow Olaf Scholz on Instagram

“Olaf Scholz elected Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.” This is the first post of the channel on December 8th @Chancellor. 1.8 million people are already following – just a few minutes after the company was founded.

Where do they come from so quickly? The same day, a different channel: The last post from @Bundeskanzlerin, which is also followed by 1.8 million people, shows the outgoing head of government with a bouquet of flowers in her hands next to her successor Scholz. Shortly thereafter, the channel was renamed @BundeskanzlerinMerkel, “Archive Account” is now in the bio, the followers go to @Bundeskanzler. So this is what a digital handover looks like: Without the users consenting, Merkel followers suddenly become Scholz followers.

How arbitrarily social media decide on this issue becomes clear when you look at the same day – December 8th, the handover – from the perspective of two other channels. Angela Merkel’s government spokesman Steffen Seibert, who has around one million followers on Twitter under @Regsprecher, thanks “everyone who followed me here”, his account is now being archived as @RegsprecherSts. Please follow his successor Steffen Hebestreit at @Regsprecher – a new account that starts with exactly zero followers.

Meta, the group behind Facebook and Instagram, sees the reach of official channels as a legacy that is passed on with the office. On Twitter, however, every new government has to rebuild its reach. This manifests itself in two different concepts of who speaks through the channels of state representatives: the office itself – or the person who holds it.

Lawyers are more on the side of Meta than Twitter on this issue – the common assessment is that the person behind the office is disappearing. This is relevant, for example, when it comes to whether representatives of the executive branch on social media, unless they clearly only use their account privately, are allowed to arbitrarily block people. The scientific service of the Bundestag writes to the fact that this would mean a violation of several fundamental rights at the same time. That would be just as inadmissible as if a representative of a government or an agency were banning government buildings at their discretion.

It can be assumed that Joe Biden’s team has examined the option of a “right to followers” – that is, a takeover of followers from the previous government. Twitter set the number of followers on the official government channel @POTUS (short for: “President of the United States”) to zero for the first time when Donald Trump took office. As if the president were only the top political influencer in his official function, who should kindly work out his position first. Trump had inherited the followers of Barack Obama – but then preferred to use his previously private account @realdonaldtrump as the official mouthpiece (or should we say: official megafon). Twitter implicitly followed this logic, not an office but a person speaking here. But not meta.

Neither one nor the other has ever occurred in Germany. The reason for this is simple: Before the Merkel era, there was no Twitter or Instagram. “The Facebook”, at that time an “online directory that connects people via social networks at universities”, only dropped the prefix “The” two days before Gerhard Schröder took office.

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