Donald Trump loves Twitter! The president prefers to communicate policy decisions and condemnations of various news outlets via tweet, and has continued using his insecure Android phone to access Twitter, despite discouragement from aides and the Secret Service.
Given his social media infatuation, it makes sense that Trump is focused on preventing government agencies from tweeting facts rather than on policy. The beef began the day after Trump’s inauguration, when the National Park Service (@NatlParkService) retweeted pictures of the crowd size at the inauguration and a tweet mentioning that pages related to climate change and civil rights had been scrubbed from the White House website. This didn’t sit well with Trump, who reportedly demanded that all National Park bureaus stop tweeting.
Although the Park Service apologized for the retweets, calling them “mistaken,” the gag orders have spread to other federal agencies as well.
A source told TechCrunch that the General Services Administration, which handles procurement, open data, cybersecurity and innovation initiatives for the federal government, has been instructed to stop external communication, including tweets. The communications freeze is said to be a temporary measure and the source cautioned that periods of silence might be normal for federal agencies during presidential transitions.
The Environmental Protection Agency received harsher restrictions: no social media, no press releases, no blog posts, no speaking engagements, agency employees were told. EPA grants were also frozen.
The departments of Transportation, Agriculture and Interior were all banned from external communications, the Associated Press reported. The ban on public statements was quickly reversed at the Department of Agriculture, allowing scientists and employees to resume communication.
The Sunlight Foundation is compiling a list of federal agencies currently under gag orders from the administration. As of publication, the list includes the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health, as well as the above-mentioned agencies. A HHS official denied to Politico that the agency had been silenced.
“Gag orders that freeze communications with the public and government officials go against basic notions of government transparency and accountability,” Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement to TechCrunch.
Even though some federal agencies haven’t been ordered to stop tweeting and publishing data, it’s possible that the reports of gag orders are having a chilling effect among federal employees. FCW notes that many agencies have slowed down their public communications, or stopped altogether. The Office of Government Ethics, which used Twitter to call attention to Trump’s conflicts of interest, has tweeted only once since Jan. 18.
The drop-off may be due in part to staffing changes during the transition, FCW says — publishing rates may slow down as staff turns over. But some employees, particularly at agencies that have faced criticism from the new president, might be quieting down out of fear that any statement could inflame the agency’s relationship with the White House.
Do you work at a federal agency that’s been hit with a communications freeze? Email this reporter securely: firstname.lastname@example.org.