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Government workers fight Trump on his own turf -- Twitter

Matt Kapko | Feb. 23, 2017
When government employees decided to fight back against the Trump administration’s crackdown on scientific research, they took to Trump’s favorite and most effective outlet.

President Donald Trump has effectively commandeered Twitter as his personal megaphone and federal employees who feel slighted or threatened by his policies have taken notice. Within days of Trump assuming the presidency, rogue Twitter accounts purporting to express views of government agencies and their staff began springing up as a new form of resistance to some of Trump’s policies.

It began when the Trump administration began ordering the removal of scientific data from government websites and imposed gag orders on the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The crackdown on government agencies and stifling of scientific research, particularly on climate change, proved to be a breaking point for dozens of government scientists who are determined to resist Trump’s disdain for scientific facts and environmental protections.

Dozens of unverified, rogue Twitter accounts voice dissent

More than 50 rogue Twitter accounts claiming to be affiliated with current or former government employees are now in operation, including @AltNatParkSer, @RogueNASA and @AltHHS. The various accounts don’t appear to have a centralized leader and some have quickly devolved into bullying, name-calling and other meme-driven insults that could undercut their message.

None of the rogue Twitter accounts are verified and some have repeatedly refused calls to identify the people running the accounts, citing safety concerns.

David Berkowitz, chief strategy officer at marketing tech company Sysomos, says it’s important to note that these accounts have not been verified because that’s part of the allure, but that lack of authenticity could also be used as a sort of bait and switch. “One could create an account purporting to be a rogue government worker, post a lot of content that seems to undermine the government, and then make up some outlandish, fictitious stories that in turn undermine that rogue account,” he says.

“This is the greater problem: It undermines the government, but it further shatters trust in everyone and everything. And it's hard to escape that one's view of it is highly partisan,” Berkowitz says. “Someone who favors this happening under Trump's administration would most likely have been aghast if it happened under Obama's. Facts themselves are now partisan.”

While the unverified nature of these accounts fuels the perception that a grassroots resistance is forming within the federal government, there’s also very little evidence that verified Twitter accounts matter much at all, according to Melissa Parrish, vice president and research director at Forrester Research. “It’s almost more of a defense mechanism than a stamp of credibility,” she says. “I don’t think people will believe the rogue accounts more if they get verified… Frankly, the people who believe in the message are going to follow those accounts even if they’re totally fabricated.”

 

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