In the wake of Donald Trump's entrance into office, a number of unofficial Twitter accounts purporting to be run by employees at several federal departments have emerged, each representing a crack in the growing schism between the administration and Washington, D.C.'s science community. Presenting themselves as the "alternative" social media presence of these governmental agencies, what began as a seemingly cheeky dig at Trump's inauguration crowd size from the National Park Service's (NPS) official Twitter account has become a full-blown online resistance to his anti-science views.
NPS' inauguration day antics were quickly set straight by the White House, but it laid down the groundwork for others to demonstrate their displeasure with the president. Days after taking office, Trump placed restrictions on the Environmental Protection Agency and its employees contacting the media and reportedly ordered the climate change page to be removed from the agency's website. The move sparked widespread outrage, and the science community, barred from expressing their dismay through public outlets, launched a Twitter-wide rebellion of the nerds.
Badlands National Park drew first blood when it fired off climate change facts on its verified Twitter account, though they were later deleted. Then California's Redwoods National Park tweeted that redwood groves can help slow down climate change. Golden Gate National Park followed with a tweet noting that 2016 was the hottest on record for the third year in a row. Death Valley National Park went beyond climate science and tweeted on Wednesday photos of a Japanese internment camp prisoner. That same day, leaked drafts detailed Trump's proposed ban on Muslims and refugees.
As the administration increasingly clamps down on these rogue social media managers, unofficial accounts have emerged in their stead, including @RogueNASA, @AltNatParkSer, @ActualEPAFacts, and @BadHombreNPS. They claim to be run by employees of these government agencies that are expected to take a hit from the Trump administration, and in a short span have amassed anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of followers with their steady stream of tweets criticizing Trump.
No media organization has been able to verify these accounts' claims that they are indeed employees of the NPS, NASA, the EPA and so on. Some of these accounts have noted that they fear repercussions and have passed over control to non-governmental employees.
We did, however, manage to get in touch with the people behind @ActualEPAFacts through DM on Twitter, who allege that they are three EPA employees and one writer whose friends and neighbor work at the agency. In honoring their request for anonymity, A Plus has tried to verify certain information within the EPA* that the public generally isn't privy to.
The following Q&A, with one of the purported EPA workers and the writer, is the result. A Plus has chosen to publish it in the hopes that it sheds further light on the trend of rogue, unverified accounts and the thought processes of their creators.
Let's address Scott Pruitt's nomination first.
It's quite stunning that someone who has sued the EPA 14 times now wants to lead it. What is the general mood over there among EPA employees, knowing that your potential boss does not believe human activity is the primary cause for climate change, and has a record of being pro-business & anti-environment?
It's not unexpected given who the president is but it is disheartening. We are encouraging people to contact their Senators to vote against his confirmation.
What is your chief concern with Pruitt being head of the EPA?
We all work on climate change research and grant administration. Knowing that our department is not valued by the person who may be leading the agency worries us. Our jobs are at stake.
What was the catalyst for the creation of @ActualEPAFacts?
We wanted to be sure that science, real science, continues to have a voice. When the information was deleted from the Badlands NPS site it felt very Orwellian.
Dozens of rogue, unofficial Twitter accounts for other government agencies have emerged in the past few days, including @ActualEPAFacts. Can you comment on what seems like this growing culture of resistance from within?
I think the AltParkService account was the first. We have been in touch with the people running that account. It seems that we are all on the same page that if the government chooses not to speak up for the planet, we will.
To an observer, it doesn't seem like these rogue accounts are coordinated. Is there any sort of clandestine organization (if you will) in real life around this social media effort?
Not from our side. We have reached out to the ones available to us via DM.
As far as you know, are some of them run by non-governmental employees?
I know that the Park service one with over a million followers has been turned over by park service employees to activists and journalists. The others I don't know.
That brings me to my next question: Like @AltNatParkSer, @RogueNASA tweeted this morning that they're handing over the reins to two people who aren't federal employees to prevent violating the Hatch Act. Do you have that same concern?
Our account is already under the technical control of our writer.
How are the 3 EPA employees involved?
They are coordinating information through here. I say technical control because she set it up and doing most of the physical tweeting. We are all providing ideas and facts.
You sent out a tweet earlier this morning about the White House press corps. What kind of questions do you want answered?
We want to know exactly what the criteria for acceptable data will be as we have been told that a "digital strategist" will be doing the review and not a scientist.
Can you give me some context for that?
We were told that all information would be reviewed by a "digital strategist" from the administration. We would like to know the specific criteria. Our understanding [is] all items posted including research... on the internet will be reviewed. What we are most concerned about is the administration removing online access to research databases that don't match their narrative.
So, say Scott Pruitt gets enough votes and becomes the head of the EPA. What next?
We continue to do the work as long as we can. If certain actions to remove or reassign is are taken, we may go private sector.
How can the public support federal employees in science agencies?
Supporting the alt Twitter helps but really we encourage every person in the U.S. who values science to stand up to the administration and let them know that alt facts will not be acceptable. It is critical that science be peer reviewed and not government scrubbed.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The EPA has not yet responded to our multiple attempts at contact. We will update the article when they do.
Cover image via Rena Schild / Shutterstock