Alt, Rogue, and Ungagged Twitter accounts may change more than social media
Amidst all the tension and worries regarding the actions of the 45th president this week, someone, somewhere, brilliantly side-stepped the new government’s apparent ban on climate science by creating an alternate Twitter account for Badlands National Park and tweeting climate facts. The tweets have since been removed, but the act of defiance struck a nerve and people allegedly, somehow, related to other government agencies started doing the same.
Here are some samples:
— NOT ALT WORLD (@NotAltWorld) January 28, 2017
A climate-literate person: understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system, knows how to assess scientifically credible info
— Alt-Badlands NPS (@AltBadlandsNPS) January 27, 2017
97% of scientists agree climate change is real and that it’s caused by human activity. Denying science is no longer an option. #climatefacts
— AltEPA (@ActualEPAFacts) January 27, 2017
There was a time when US Government meteorologists were not allowed to say the word “tornado”. Thankfully, those days are over. #resist
— Alternative NOAA (@altNOAA) January 27, 2017
“It poses a dangerous question: What, when summer comes, are we going to do when forest fires inevitably happen?” https://t.co/ihwgkwNRpG
— AltUSForestService (@AltForestServ) January 27, 2017
— Rogue NASA (@RogueNASA) January 27, 2017
— ALTUSNatParkSer (@ALTUSNatParkSer) January 27, 2017
— U.S. EPA – Ungagged (@ungaggedEPA) January 28, 2017
— AltEPA (@ActualEPAFacts) January 27, 2017
There may be more, and if so, please let me know, but these are the ones we’ve located so far. Follow them. All of them. This movement is pretty damn important.
Why the sudden resistance?
The new president doesn’t believe in climate change. Since the fateful day of his inauguration, a number of different memos and email have gone out to the heads of various federal agencies, specifically those who deal in some way with climate change, curtailing their publishing activities. Everyone from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Health and Human Services was included.
Public furor immediately rose up and social media exploded over the censorship, especially that regarding science. What the new administration has yet to figure out is that they work in a glass bubble. They don’t get to do things in secret and sneak up on us. They don’t like that situation, which is one of the reasons they’ve taken to calling the press the opposition party. However, given that the uproar against those memos and emails was so severe, they backtracked quickly, at least on the public front.
Still, once their intentions were made public, people began to respond. We already knew we would have to fight this administration tooth and nail, every step of the way. The hashtag #Resist was already procured and ready to go; it’s even been hung on a large banner from a tall crane thanks to the folks at Greenpeace. Americans have never been too keen on government censorship and we’re certainly not going to start supporting it now.
No #AlternativeFacts here
As the number of alternative social media accounts continues to grow (we’re following @Alt_FAA, @Alt_DeptofEd, @ALT_USCIS [immigration], and @AltStateDpt), so does the battle against misinformation, or what the administration has referred to as #AlternativeFacts. Other people call them lies, which is more accurate but carries an inflammatory inference that seems to upset those who are part of the current regime. Real facts do exist and in the presence of a concerted effort to mute those facts, someone has to stand up and make sure they are sufficiently unmuzzled, even if doing so draws no small amount of criticism.
There is no question that the new White House wants to control all the information it has so that they are presenting a unified voice. They want to make sure that no matter which agency one contacts, no matter who one talks to on the phone or through email, the information all spews the same lies, recites the same canon, pours the same kool-aid. If they’re going to take over the nation, that has to happen. Official sources of information must all be consistent in the lies they are telling.
What the dear folks inhabiting the White House seem to have forgotten is that the press, and subsequently the free flow of factual information, is protected under the first amendment of the constitution. The administration can only control information up to a point. Our founding fathers were very suspicious of each other and especially of other governments. They had seen what corruption had done across Europe. Hell, they were rebelling against King George III, who is largely considered to have been completely insane (new details about him have just been released, by the way) and was known to have “secret” agents. They wanted to make sure that there was always someone, namely the press, watching every move the government made so that there could be no secret acts of treason undermining the country.
While the White House can try to manipulate the mainstream press and even intersperse false reporters from fake news sites among those sitting in the White House briefing room, it has absolute zero control over what is put on social media. In fact, as we’ve seen to sometimes disgusting proportions, no one really has much control over what is put on social media. For better or worse, it is an absolute bastion of free speech. While the president has used it to circumvent the press, the same tools can also be used to circumvent and repudiate the president and his staff.
We see in all these new rogue accounts exactly what should happen in a free and open society. Where one person tries to hide and quiet information they don’t like, someone else stands up and shouts it. The more the administration tries to put a stranglehold on science and studies that are in opposition to their agenda, the more those involved with those studies are likely to find ways to make sure that information finds its way to the public. We need these new social media accounts to maintain a balance in the flow of information.
There is a dark side
If there is a negative aspect to all these new #Alt accounts, it is the fact that they are, perhaps necessarily, anonymous. We can certainly understand why. While most claim to not be associated with the actual federal agencies, there’s every possibility that those claims are a smoke screen. At the most, we would be surprised if the sources are more than one step removed from someone who is employed by the federal government. Revealing the persons behind these accounts could subject them to danger and possibly even prosecution. The need to be anonymous is real.
However, with anonymity comes certain risks, especially considering the fact that social media is full of security holes. It is difficult to verify an anonymous account without giving away personal information that might be used against the originator of the account. We don’t really know who these people are, what their connection to the various agencies might be, or their ultimate intentions. For the moment, they all look good and are saying things that are verifiable, but what happens if that changes?
Forbes magazine has an article on this same topic that made for some very uncomfortable reading. They bring up things like how easy it might be for someone to attach a virus or piece of malware to an otherwise legitimate PDF document. The social media account links to the document and everyone who opens it is unknowingly infected. One of the fears we’ve seen this week is the possibility that client scientists might be forced to delete large amounts of information. Imagine the security risks if hackers were to get ahold of that information, which is certainly not out of the bounds of possibility, and presented it through an #Alt account. Very little effort would be required to turn those legitimate documents into a stream of digital infection.
The system is far from fool-proof.
Resistance is not futile
Still, these new accounts are present for good reason and are doing a good thing. Our government, every government, needs to be held accountable. Through all his business dealings, our president has never had anyone standing above him telling him “no, you can’t do that.” He is now in a system where checks and balances are written into the constitution. Those checks and balances are required of a democracy and without them, we slip all too easily into fascism or communism.
The threat to our country, our way of life, and even our very existence is real. Climate change is real. Science is real. Diseases that defy immunization are real. We have an urgent need to not only know about the world’s problems but what we can do to mitigate them. We need to understand that our carbon footprint is a very serious matter and that there are simple and practical things we can do to reduce our carbon emissions. We need to know how to eat more safely as some foods to which we’ve grown accustomed may no longer be safely edible. There are mountain ranges full of information we need and if we cannot rely on official government agencies to provide that information then we desperately need sources that fill that gap.
We must, on every level possible, #Resist. We must resist the misinformation and lies. We must resist the attempts at censorship. We must resist the attempts to hide, delete, and obfuscate information. Not only is this our country, this is our planet. We live here. We have an inalienable right to keep it inhabitable and no government has a right to stand in our way, no matter how they think they were elected.