Following the Leader

Sure, you follow the President on Twitter. But can you make him follow you?

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Illustration by Tomasz Walenta for TIME

It's important for the president of the United States to get as much information from as many sources as possible, but Obama may be overdoing it. His Twitter account — the third most popular, after Lady Gaga's and Justin Bieber's — has signed up for updates from 697,726 people, more than anyone else on the entire site. In addition to security briefings from the Director of National Intelligence and jobs reports from the Office of Management and Budget, the President gets news from Miss.Xplicit, Orgasmblushh, bikini model Krystal Starr, N0Bama and Athena the Dog, a jujitsu-loving canine that tweets regularly despite having died last month. He also gets updates from the rapper Trey Songz like "Trinidad what up!!! Looking forward to the sand & the beeeaaachheeezzzz!!!!"

I totally get that the leader of the free world has to keep up on the death-metal music scene in Indonesia, so when the band Lifeless writes, "After lot of discussion, finally our guitarist is resign for 2nd time," he's the first to know. But it seems equally crucial that he know that I find ending a letter with Sincerely to be very insincere. And yet the President is not following me on Twitter.

To figure out how to rectify this I called the rapper N.O.R.E. and asked what his trick was. A few years ago, N.O.R.E. was jealous after Soulja Boy bragged that Obama followed him on Twitter: "I said, I'd love to have the President follow me on Twitter. And I checked, and he was following me!" N.O.R.E. has two theories as to how this happened. One: "In 1998, Obama was a professor. I'm sure some of his kids were playing 'Superthug.' Who's to say he wasn't listening to that?" Two: "Every so often I'd say, 'Hey, @BarackObama, way too much Hennessy for me. Hangover time. See you next week, my brother.'" N.O.R.E. suggested I try something like that to get the President's attention. I considered tweeting, "Hey, @BarackObama, supercool eating organic buffalo burgers and watching Parks and Recreation on the couch with you and my wife," but it sounded creepy.

Obama is also following Ben Wu, my college roommate and godfather to my son. Until I called, Ben didn't even know the President was following him. But he wasn't at all excited, figuring it was due to an auto-follow option. "There's no reason he would follow me," Ben said. "Look at my tweet history." If our President doesn't care about Ben's love for Costco's customer service and his ironic observation that the PGA Tour rules official is named Slugger White, then that's an America I don't want to live in.

Because Obama follows him, Ben can send the President direct messages on Twitter. We decided to send him a message asking if he would show his friend Ben, and only his friend Ben, the photos of dead Osama bin Laden. But Ben didn't want to get on any kind of weird White House terrorist lists. So instead Ben sent the President a message asking him to follow me. When I didn't hear anything from the White House, I called the Administration directly to beg Obama to follow me.

It turns out the Administration runs a separate White House Twitter account that follows only people like the President of Chile, FEMA, the National Zoo and Idaho. The @BarackObama account was opened more than four years ago by his campaign, the theme of which was about how we were all going to be the change or have one big Twitter account or something. To be polite, the campaign decided to follow everyone who followed him. As crazy as that sounds, the same policy was employed by the British Prime Minister (David Cameron follows 463,254 people, including aPimpNamedJasz) and the former Prime Minister of Australia (Kevin Rudd follows 289,214 people, including Maggie Big Boobs). During the 2008 campaign, Obama volunteers pressed Follow on Twitter more than 600,000 times, which sounds tedious until you consider their other option was talking to voters on the telephone. Once he won, they stopped following new people.

But after it became clear I would not get off the phone, Katie Hogan, the deputy press secretary for Obama's re-election campaign, agreed. "Yes, we can follow you, Joel," she informed me. I am now the 697,996th person the President is following. It's a lot of pressure trying to write clever tweets while knowing that they might be read by someone who works for the deputy press secretary for the Obama re-election campaign.

I hope Katie reads the President my recent tweet: "Ever since the iPhone came out, adults have really caught up with 3-year-olds on the parallel play thing." He can use it in conversation with Michelle and claim it's his, since she doesn't have a Twitter account. But if she gets one, I'm totally calling her office until she follows me.