The first three chaotic weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have unfolded on social media like no presidential transition before it. Trump is the first president to transition into office with an immense presence in social media, Twitter in particular. According to White House archives, Barack Obama didn’t tweet using the @POTUS account until his 6th year in office. Similarly, Obama’s personal handle, @BarackObama, was created just a few years prior to election day in 2008 and had about 118,000 followers when he took office. Trump entered office with about 20.4 million followers, which he amassed after over half a decade on the platform.
Now that Twitter has become a widely used tool for politicians, the public has a front row seat to policy disputes playing out on social media for the first time. The latest development in the quickly evolving world of social media is the advent of rogue government accounts.
A social media blackout called by the Trump administration spurred the creation of multiple “alternative government” twitter accounts. Unofficial accounts for the EPA, National Park Service, NASA, and the Department of Education have sprung up on Twitter within a month of President Trump’s inauguration. All told, the rogue accounts have over 1 million combined followers and rising.
The various Twitter accounts consist predominantly of climate change facts, contact information for senators/representatives, the latest political news, and scientific information. Each account has stolen the limelight by repeatedly trolling the Trump administration with contradictory policy views.
@altUSEPA has over 346K Followers.
Hello. This is the Alternative Environmental Protection Agency Twitter Account activated to circumvent censorship.
— altEPA (@altUSEPA) January 25, 2017
@altUSEPA acted as a source of information upon the announcement of Scott Pruitt’s senate approval to lead the EPA.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee suspended their rules to advance EPA nominee Pruitt to Senate approvalhttps://t.co/XamSwD0fMG
— altEPA (@altUSEPA) February 3, 2017
@AltNatParkSer took jabs at Trump and displayed a petition circling in the UK for Trump to be banned from entering the country.
The official National Park Service was asked directly by the administration to stop tweeting following their retweets of images comparing the crowds at Obama and Trump’s inaugurations.
— AltUSNatParkService (@AltNatParkSer) January 29, 2017
@RogueNASA, one of the largest rogue accounts, has gained over 865K followers.
— Rogue NASA (@RogueNASA) February 2, 2017
@RogueNASA begs the question who is really in charge of these “rogue” accounts?
How sad is it that government employees have to create rogue Twitter accounts just to communicate FACTS to the American public?
— Rogue NASA (@RogueNASA) January 25, 2017
@Alt_DeptofED trolled Betsy Devos and her statement during her senate hearing involving the need for firearms to protect from potential grizzly bears.
— Alt Dept of ED (@Alt_DeptofED) January 26, 2017
The identity of the account administrators remains in question. Yet, the account biographies say that they are not run by government agents or taxpayer funds.
A new era of social media has begun. One where policy battles are fought 140 characters at a time. What’s next remains unknown, but one thing is clear: these alternative government accounts have a growing voice, and people are listening.