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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.

The rogue Twitter accounts signify the growing rift between the Trump administration and federal employees who are responsible for enforcing policies implemented by the president and his staff. Government employees who are choosing to dissent in such a public forum don’t just disagree with Trump’s policies, they view the administration as a direct threat to their work and legacy.

“This is a qualitatively different worry among federal employees and that brings out this sort of thing,” says Rick Parrish, principal analyst at Forrester Research (he and Melissa Parrish are siblings). “What could come under attack here is the whole notion of science itself, the whole notion of established science. This is a very personal, passionate thing for people who dedicated their lives to science.”

Twitter’s impact as a form of political resistance

Twitter’s role in all of this is not happenstance, according to Melissa Parrish. “You have the president of the United States using the exact same piece of publicly facing technology to engage and rally his supporters that his detractors also use,” she says. “It’s sort of like the most beautiful, logical outcome of the advent of social or peer-to-peer tech.”

The open nature of Twitter’s service is also exposing “vastly more people to the opinions and thoughts of unhappy federal workers than was ever previously possible,” she says. The democratization of communications has displaced power structures at the highest levels of government.

“In this kind of media environment, authority figures in government don’t control the government narrative anymore,” Rick Parrish says. “Trying to have one centrally controlled authoritative narrative and blocking out all other voices is a losing proposition.”

The power of Twitter, and social media more broadly, is to give people a voice and distribution network to connect with a global audience free from any intermediary, according to Berkowitz. “The resistance could hardly have coalesced so well without social media,” he says. “Many of these rogue accounts seem legitimate, and at least some probably are. In another era, these would have been people weighing whether to be ‘Deep Throat’ and contact a media outlet. Today, they are the media outlets.”

Twitter’s influence also far exceeds its own success in increasing usership of the service itself, according to Melissa Parrish. “It creates its own expanding sphere of influence because tweets are themselves public,” she says. Despite Twitter’s business challenges, it still provides the most open and deliberate pathway for dissidents to share their views. Twitter is the preferred communication channel for Trump and his detractors because the sphere of influence on competing social networks tends to be more limited to one’s own bubble, she says.

 

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