How Barack Obama Duped Millions of Twitter Users

President's 2.6 million followers fooled into thinking they received personal messages

By Owen Thomas
|  Monday, Nov 16, 2009  |  Updated 10:19 AM PDT
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Just Your Average Joe-Bama

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WASHINGTON - JANUARY 29: U.S. President Barack Obama works on his Blackberry on his belt as he returns to the Oval Office at the White House January 29, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama attended a class presentation at his daughters Sasha's school, Sidwell Friends School in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)

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In Shanghai for his tour of Asia, Barack Obama stumped for Internet freedom.

Including the freedom not to use the Internet.

Obama admitted that despite having 2.6 million Twitter followers -- at one point, he was the service's most popular user -- he doesn't actually use the San Francisco-based microblogging service.

The telltale signs were there: Barack Obama's Twitter feed is mostly posted via Twitter's website, as opposed to a mobile device like his supersecret BlackBerry. Can you really picture the always-on-the-move president sitting down at a laptop to post a tweet?

Obama's excuse: He's all thumbs and can't be trusted to type out a legible tweet. He may have a point, given his butterfingers reputation with gadgets.

Still, the seeming realism of his tweets had people thinking Obama's fingers were at the keyboard. After he won the Nobel Peace Prize, for example, Obama's Twitter account issued a single-word reaction: "Humbled." It's just the kind of thing a real Twitter user might type.

Twitter is rife with ghostwriters. And even those who type their own tweets often present an idealized vision of themselves, not the real-time authenticity Twitter's supposed to encourage.

For Obama's Webhead followers, it's one more disappointment. Fortune magazine recently asked if the Obama-Google love affair was coming to an end. Obama was widely thought to have ridden social networks like Facebook and Twitter to victory in the primaries and then the general election.

So maybe this is a good time to ask: Is Obama like Twitter, a hot product which has leapt from early adopters to the mainstream? Or is he a technofad like Friendster, which grew huge and then got abandoned by the cognoscenti?

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