A temporary gag order on government agencies issued by President Donald Trump led several alleged government employees to go rogue last month, defying the president’s orders and posting scientific information on social media.
Following Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, the National Park Service retweeted a side-by-side photo originally posted by a New York Times reporter that compared the crowd size at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration with the crowd size at Trump’s recent inauguration.
Multiple media organizations also tweeted and retweeted the photo, which implied that Trump’s inauguration event saw a significantly smaller crowd than the Obama inauguration’s 1.8 million attendees.
Later that same day, the NPS also retweeted landscape architect Anne Trumble, whose tweet stated, “civil rights, climate change, and health care scrubbed clean from White House website. Not a trace.”
The latter tweet referred to the fact that pages dedicated to explaining climate change, healthcare and the LGBT community were found to be removed from the official White House website upon Trump’s inauguration. However, the pages were later learned to not have been purposely removed by Trump.
Instead the pages were considered a part of the Obama administration’s platform and transferred to a new website, ObamaWhiteHouse.archives.gov. Other social media content produced by the Obama administration was also transferred to different accounts, such as any tweets posted by Obama under the @POTUS Twitter handle.
Trump and his administration quickly discovered the retweets and both were deleted by the NPS. However, representatives from the administration requested that the NPS digital team stop using Twitter temporarily. A career staffer with the Interior Department proceeded to instruct NPS employees to halt tweeting through the weekend and to remove any scheduled tweets.
In a Jan. 21 tweet, the NPS stated, “we regret the mistaken RTs [retweets] from our account yesterday and look forward to continuing to share the beauty and history of our parks with you.”
The NPS employee who retweeted the posts has yet to be identified.
Concurrently, employees at the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and other governmental agencies reported that the administration had notified them to limit communication with the public via social media and to delete specific online pages.
In response to the temporary gag order and Trump’s general skepticism of climate change and global warming, a multitude of rogue social media accounts allegedly run by government agencies, government employees and concerned scientists was created.
Among the created accounts is Alt National Park Service, a Facebook page that states it is, “a growing coalition of 59 National Park Service employees from nine different National Parks. We formed to ensure the protection of the environment for future generations to come.”
As of press time, the page has garnered over one million followers, featuring a mission statement that promises to, “Stand up for the National Park Service to help protect and preserve the environment for future generations to come.”
Even official Interior Department accounts, such as one run by Badlands National Park, showed their displeasure over the ban, posting several facts about climate change on Jan. 25—only two days after the ban was lifted. According to one tweet posted by the account, acidity in oceans has increased by 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution.
Two other tweets stated that burning a single gallon of gasoline sends almost 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and that the amount of carbon dioxide currently in the air exceeds the amount of carbon dioxide in the air throughout the last 650,000 years.
Although the tweets went viral and were publicly supported by the Democratic National Committee, they were eventually deleted by Badlands National Park staff members.
Other alternate accounts borrow their titles from the names of government agencies and national parks, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, NASA, Mount Rainier National Park, the National Institutes of Health, the National Weather Service, Rocky Mountain National Park and others.
Most of the accounts feature logos that are nearly identical to their real counterparts, except for an emblazoned “alternative” or “alt” often placed on the logo. Although some of these accounts claim to be made up of government employees rebelling against Trump’s climate change skepticism, the leadership behind others is unclear.
The Alternative CDC Twitter account, which has over 140,000 followers, describes itself as an “unofficial unaffiliated resistance account by concerned scientists for humanity.” Another account, Rogue NASA, has amassed nearly 785,000 followers, describing itself as “the unofficial ‘resistance’ team of NASA. Not an official NASA account. Not managed by gov’t [sic] employees.”
Dozens of these types of alternate accounts have gained momentum on Facebook and Twitter.