Rogue National Park Service Twitter account says it’s no longer run by government employees…but maybe it never was

The rogue government Twitter account, AltUSNatParkService, which claimed it was being run by current park rangers, says it has now handed off control of its Twitter account to “several activists and journalists who believe they can continue in the same spirit.”

The move has led some to question if the account was, in fact, ever operated by disgruntled government employees in the first place and, if it was, whether or not it just squandered the power the account held to serve as a means of resisting the Trump administration.

If you haven’t been following closely, the saga of the rogue government Twitter accounts can be a little confusing.

This week, the Trump administration issued gag orders affecting several government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service. The orders limited the agencies’ ability to communicate with the public, including through social media postings.

But one official National Park Service account, @BadlandsNPS (Badlands National Park), seemed to be taking a stand against the new administration. The account was tweeting facts about climate change, apparently in defiance of President Trump’s position on the matter.

When those tweets were later deleted, the public cried that government censorship was at hand.

The National Park Service, however, issued a statement that explained the tweets had been posted by a former employee who was not supposed to be authorized to use the park’s account:

“The park was not told to remove the tweets but chose to do so when they realized their account had been compromised. At this time, National Park Service social media managers are encouraged to continue the use of Twitter to post information relating to public safety and park information, with the exception of content related to national policy issues.”

Not everyone bought this explanation, naturally.

Soon thereafter, rogue government Twitter accounts representing the oppressed agencies started to appear.

The first and most infamous was @AltNatParkSer (AltUSNatParkService), which tweeted defiantly: “Can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS. You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”   

The account claimed to be run by park rangers, but said they couldn’t identify themselves.

“…we do not feel it is safe or in the public interest to identify ourselves. We have been advised of this by [several] journalists,” the account tweeted on Wednesday.

The whole thing makes for a good story, and one which it’s all too easy to envision: people who have dedicated their lives to protecting the earth, forced into silence by their government, leaving them no choice but to anonymously begin tweeting the truth.

Yet, there has never been proof that @AltNatParkSer was ever run by disgruntled government employees. Journalists tried, and failed, to confirm this. And now, the account says it has handed itself off to “activists and journalists,” which just seems odd.

First of all, if these employees felt so strongly about defying Trump, why ditch the account now that it has worldwide attention? Wouldn’t that have been the end goal?  And who are these “reporters” supposedly working with the activists instead of just covering them?

And why does an account that’s now supposedly run by “former scientists” need to employ journalists for fact checking? Are scientists capable of that? Isn’t factual information the point of science?

There are a lot of questions here, and still too few answers.

For what it’s worth, the account claims they had grown fearful of criminal prosecution, because they were using the NPA’s official logo.

It’s just as reasonable, though, to assume that the original account holders were fearful that they may end up being exposed as mere activists, not defiant government workers.

After all, the account never verified itself through Twitter or any other trusted third-party — such as through one of these supposed “journalist” partners, or a trusted, independent organization like EFF, as was suggested by VICE’s Motherboard.

And when pressed about its lack of verification, it got a little snippy:

Despite the lack of proof, many took the account at its word because its existence fits a certain narrative.

To further confuse the matter, the popularity of @AltNatParkSer prompted a wave of other “Alt” government accounts to appear.

Suddenly we had @BadHombreNPS, @AltMtRainierNPS, @RogueNASA, @AltForestServ, @AltHHS, @Alt_FDA@ActualEPAFacts, @AltUSDA@AlternativeNWS and others to track.

Some of these also claim to be run by government employees, while others explicitly said they are not. Others say they’re operated by a combination of employees and activists, and some say nothing about their creators at all.

Some are now downplaying any “official” affiliation, or saying they’re going to change their logo from their (illegally used) official one. In fact, @AltMtRainierNPS just asked Twitter if doing so would help it get verified. (Twitter didn’t respond.)

Another, @AlternativeNWS, says it’s also trying to hand off its account to non-government people for “safety.”

As these accounts are supposedly transferred, many Twitter users are thanking them for being so “brave,” “strong” and defiant. Unfortunately, we have no proof that any government employees ever actually took a stand. We only have the anonymous account’s word, and we’re being asked to believe on faith.

While the spirit of resistance is certainly understandable, the emergence of “rogue government Twitter” has only led to a lot of confusion.

It doesn’t help the resistance to further blur the line between truth and fact. It doesn’t help if the media reports an anonymous Twitter account’s story as being fact, when the source isn’t verified.

And it doesn’t help for there now to be a plethora of government-esque accounts being run by a range of unidentified parties tweeting things they want everyone to believe are facts.