Published On: Wed, May 20th, 2015

How to lose the president of the United States

Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really! Six years in, they’re finally giving me my own account.” So went the first tweet from President Obama for his brand new@POTUS “president of the US” account, which garnered a million followers in less than five hours.

An immediate question springs to mind: as an extreme late adopter of Twitter, how did President Obama manage to snag the @POTUS handle? When I joinedTwitter in 2009, the straightforward @timdowling was already being used by an estate agent from Austin, Texas. All the world’s Tim Dowlings have subsequently been obliged to compromise. How could a name as covetable and obvious as @POTUS still be up for grabs in 2015?

The president has been in control of the @barackobama username since 2007, but that’s an official account, run by the staff of his non-profit Organising for Action project. @POTUS is meant to be a personal account, with tweets composed by the president himself. Has the White House been squatting on the username for years, just in case?

The Mother Jones website discovered that the @POTUS handle had been used before, specifically on 11 March 11 2008, to send the enigmatic tweet “Wondering what Roy got me into now”. After that the account fell mysteriously silent, until this week.

But Obama wasn’t even president in March 2008. So who was @POTUS then? And who is Roy? Credit goes to James Cook from Business Insider for solving the mystery: @POTUS used to belong to a Torontonian called Steve D’Alimonte, who now tweets as @stevedalimonte.

Back in 2008 he was, you may not be surprised to hear, a committed West Wing fan – hence the username. D’Alimonte told’s Mic Wright that Roy was the person who convinced him to join Twitter. When D’Alimonte decided to start tweeting under his own name, in 2011, he set @POTUS free, a decision he has since come to regret. “A tip to the new @POTUS,” he recently tweeted. “Don’t let your account become inactive or you might lose it;) #originalPOTUS”.

Dowling does his accounts


Stopping for petrol in rural Shropshire, a few miles from the Welsh border and within sight of the ‘Welcome to Cheshire’ sign – the middle of nowhere, that’s what I’m getting at -I impulse-bought a copy of the weeklyWhitchurch Herald. On opening it I was confronted by the headline “Friends meet for coffee”. It’s all kicking off in Whitchurch, I thought to myself.

The headline, however, was misleading: further reading revealed that it was in fact the Friends of Whitchurch Hospital, who were holding a coffee morning at the Civic Centre(this coming Friday, if you’ve no plans). It’s not exactly “man bites dog”, but it’s a perfectly respectable news event made to look insanely inconsequential by a mischievous headline.

It’s rare for a headline to be less exciting than the story underneath it – it’s generally the other way round – but I recall that when I briefly worked on my college newspaper we used the technique to downplay the successes of fellow students. So, for example, a story about a high-achieving undergraduate named Wilson exhibiting his paintings on the walls of the dining area might be headlined “Wilson works in dining hall”. I’m not proud of that one. I guess I was just bitter – I knew there would never be a headline that said “Dowling works in dining hall”, even though I did.

Getting a handle on Bill

The issue of what happens to the well-travelled @POTUS handle once Obama is no longer POTUS has already been raised, within hours of the account’s launch, by no less a figure than Bill Clinton. “Welcome to @Twitter, @POTUS!” he wrote. “One question: does that username stay with the office? #askingforafriend.”

The query prompted Obama’s third ever tweet: “Good question, @billclinton. The handle comes with the house. Know anyone interested in @FLOTUS?” Those guys.