BILLINGS – More than 60 alternative government Twitter accounts – including two for Yellowstone National Park and one for Glacier – have popped up across the United States in the wake of the Trump administration’s mid-January order that Interior Department employees stop making posts on a National Park Service account.
“This whole dimension of communication didn’t exist before and hadn’t been controversial because it was used as a means to amplify talking points,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which revealed a list of the new Twitter accounts in a Wednesday email. “But now all the talking points are thrown out the window.”
The weekend shutdown of a National Park Service Twitter account was ordered after the agency posted photos of a smaller crowd attending President Trump’s inauguration in comparison to when President Obama was sworn in. The step is just one that the Trump administration has taken to control information coming from government agencies. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency was ordered by the new administration to halt all press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency's social media accounts, according to an Associated Press report.
Ruch said the attempt to control information shows how much the political landscape has changed because of social media in just the past few years. No one would have noticed such a move in the early years of the Obama administration, he said.
President Trump’s actions have prompted a revolt unique to a new world where social media has provided the ability for people to circumvent the normal channels for releasing information to the public.
The list PEER referred to has been compiled by Alice Stollmeyer, a digital advocacy strategist from Brussels with a background in science and communications, according to her LinkedIn account. Her public list of Twitter accounts is titled Twistance: “Twitter+resistance=#Twistance. US federal #science agencies going rogue.” She’s also posted another public list called Twistance 2 that listed 33 other “rogue” alternate accounts for agencies like Homeland Security, FEMA and the Department of Education.
The alternative Yellowstone accounts include @YellerstoneNPS, which describes its site as “The official Twitter feed* of Yellerstone National Park. *some facts may be alternative."
More popular, with more than 37,000 followers, is @AltYellowstoneNatPar, which says it is “An unofficial group of employees, scientists and activists in and around Yellowstone national park. We will try and keep you informed, when others can't.”
The @GlacierNPSAlt site simply says it is “The alternative Twitter site for Glacier National Park.” It has already gathered more than 20,000 followers.
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The fact that in only a few days the sites have logged thousands of followers impressed Kirsten Stade, advocacy director for PEER.
“These alternative accounts have tapped into a current that the rest of us dream of,” she said, referring to others with Twitter accounts.
Twitter users skew younger, she said, which also means that the accounts may be reaching a new audience for scientific, climate and research issues by government agencies.
@NastyWomenofNPS, “The Unofficial Resistance team of nasty lady rangers your elected officials warned you about,” posted comments by former Park Service Director Jon Jarvis supporting the social media revolt.
“I have been watching the Trump administration trying unsuccessfully to suppress the National Park Service with a mix of pride and amusement,” Jarvis said in a statement posted on Sunday to the Association of National Park Rangers’ Facebook site. “The NPS is the steward of America’s most important places and the narrator of our most powerful stories, told authentically, accurately, and built upon scientific and scholarly research. The park ranger is a trusted interpreter of our complex natural and cultural history and a voice that cannot not be suppressed. Edicts from on-high have directed the NPS to not talk about ‘national policy,’ but permission is granted to use social media for visitor center hours and safety.”
Jarvis goes on to question what such gag orders could lead to, including: “… as we scientifically monitor the rapid decline of glaciers in Glacier National Park, a clear and troubling indicator of a warming planet, shall we refrain from telling this story to the public because the administration views climate change as ‘national policy?’”
The alternative sites now claim to represent people from a variety of federal agencies, from NASA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The new alt movement can trace its short heritage back to a former Badlands (South Dakota) National Park employee who had access to the park’s Twitter account and on Jan. 24 started posting climate change facts. The Tweets, which gained 60,000 followers in a day, were later deleted by the Park Service but an alternative account, @AltUSNatParkService popped up.
Although PEER’s Stade said the current political climate has been challenging, the rise of alt Twitter accounts is a positive sign.
“We may have a more active and engaged citizenry,” she said.