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Twitter War: Trump vs badass scientists

Last updated on: January 27, 2017 17:27 IST

Hell hath no fury like a scientist scorned. Defiant employees from multiple US government agencies are fighting the Trump administration's gag orders on climate change and penchant for 'alt facts' with 'rogue' Twitter accounts.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Trump vs Twitter

When United States President Donald Trump -- who has called climate change a hoax -- began his presidency with making the White House delete the climate change policies on its website, he definitely didn't see this coming. Defiant employees from multiple US government agencies established "alt" Twitter accounts to bypass the muzzle and fight the Trump administration's penchant for "alt facts".

The movement began with the Badlands National Park @BadlandsNPS tweeting about global warming.

"Badlands National Park tugged on Superman's cape Tuesday. It spit into the wind. It pulled the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and it messed around with President Trump," The Washington Post wrote. "With the Trump administration placing a gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency, shutting down its Twitter feed, forcing employees off their individual accounts and dismantling Web pages with climate-change information, Badlands went rogue."

Badlands
 

Though the tweets -- reportedly posted by a former Badlands National Park employee -- were soon deleted, it was too late. They had been retweeted thousands of times and many had screenshots as back-up. A movement had begun.

The RedwoodsNational Park tweeted about the role of trees in containing climate change: "More redwoods would mean less #climatechange".

Golden Gate National Recreation Area tweeted, "2016 was the hottest year on record for the 3rd year in a row", with a link to a NASA report on climate change.

Death ValleyNational Park's account tweeted about the internment of Japanese-Americans at the park during World War II. It was seen by many as a stand against Trump's pledge to ban Muslims from entering the US.

Trump actions on climate change

    • According to Salon, "In December the Trump team got into trouble for sending out a questionnaire to Department of Energy employees asking for the names of employees who had worked on climate change policy."

    • Trump chose Scott Pruitt, who doesn't believe in global warming, dislikes everything that the EPA stands for and has sued the agency multiple times, as the head of the agency.

    • One of President Trump's first moves was to remove the White House page on climate change. 

    • Trump not only gagged EPA employees, but also told the agency's communications team to delete the page describing climate change. "This will include detailed data on emissions and links to scientific research on the climatology behind man-made global warming. Some employees are working furiously to save as much of the website's information as possible," Salon noted. The administration, however, appeared to "stand down" after severe backlash.

    • Trump signed two executive actions advancing two controversial pipelines -- the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines.

    • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cancelled a climate and health summit in the wake of Trump's actions, but former US vice president Al Gore said he would host the climate change summit instead.


And as it became clear that the Trump administration would go on muzzling federal workers (especially those at the EPA and the departments of interior, agriculture, and health and human services) unofficial resistance teams began to emerge. Accounts like @AltNatParkSer, @ActualEPAFacts, @RogueNASA, @Alt_NASA and @Alt_CDC -- to name just a few of the more than 50 such handles -- were created and quickly gathered hundreds of thousand of followers.

The @AltNatParkSer account, which had 1.23 million followers at last count, called itself 'the unofficial #Resistance team of U.S. National Park Service. Come for rugged scenery, science facts & climate change information. Run by non-gov individuals.'

It pinned a tweet stating, 'Can't wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS. You can take our official twitter, but you'll never take our free time!'

@ActualEPAFacts, which was followed by 143K people, said, 'He can take our official Twitter but he'll never take our FREEDOM. Unofficial EPA resistance. #factsmatter.' It added, "Stay in your lane Donald. Leave the sciencing up to the scientists. #factsmatter #NotAlternativeFacts"

The @RogueNASA account, called itself "The unofficial 'Resistance' team of NASA. Not an official NASA account. Not managed by gov't employees. Come for the facts, stay for the snark," adding "If (when?) the time comes that NASA has been instructed to cease tweeting/sharing info about science and climate change, we will inform you." 

Interestingly, the @AltNatParkSer account already has more than three times as many followers as the official @NatlParkService account.

And as Reuters reported, "Because the Twitter feeds were set up and posted to anonymously as private accounts, they are beyond the control of the government."

Forbes, which investigated the security and copyright aspects of these accounts, noted, "These new accounts also raise the fascinating question of whether 'alternative' or 'rogue' or 'resistance' social media accounts will become a new norm even in Western nations that have not typically had a history of 'governments in exile'… In the end, the rise of this 'rogue' Twitter army offers many lessons as governments move beyond the traditional controlled confines of reserved communication channels like press conferences and restricted web domains to the open and chaotic free-for-all of social media. It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out."

Monali Sarkar / Rediff.com
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