A burst of civil disobedience goes a long way with federal employees, who quickly rose to create a "resistance" to the Trump administration after a former National Park Service employee took to Twitter over concerns the new administration would place "a gag order on climate science."
At the same time, the four innocuous "tweets" keyed a large upwelling of public support, and a handful of donations directed at Badlands National Park, by Americans who believe in climate change, fear the new administration is anti-science, and were furious over President Trump's initial orders to federal agencies, including the Interior Department, to not speak to media until the new administration was in place.
The tweets, coming shortly after President Trump grew irate when someone at the National Park Service's Washington, D.C., offices retweeted photographs comparing the crowd at his inauguration to larger crowds at President Obama's 2009 inauguration, sparked a media frenzy over why the climate change tweets were made in the first place, and then why they were taken down. Fanning the interest was the fact that the Trump administration on January 20 directed all bureaus within the Interior Department to "shut down their Twitter platforms immediately until further notice," a ban that lasted one day. Outlets ranging from NPR, Reuters, The Associated Press, NBC News, the London-based Guardian, Mother Jones, and many others peppered not only Badlands National Park but other parks in the region about the tweets.
That quartet of tweets from Badlands' Twitter account, sent over a period of roughly 90 minutes on January 24, were seemingly inoffensive -- they touched on four aspects of climate change -- but they spurred the incoming Interior Department staff to briefly shut down the Park Service's social media outreach on Twitter and Facebook.
In the wake of that order, "alt" Park Service accounts sprouted across the "twitterverse," from Yellowstone and Yosemite to Mount Rainier, Lassen Volcanic, Rocky Mountain and Muir Woods. There's even an @altusnps account. Outside the agency, there's an altEPA, Alt_Dept. of Labor, AltStateDpt, AltForestService, even an AltNASA and Alt_CDC.
In various forms and messages, the alt sites seem to have a unifying foundation: Science is real and should be used to inform the public, and those behind the accounts will resist any efforts by the Trump administration to muzzle scientists.
The event greatly raised the profile of the National Park Service during a normally slow period for the agency, perhaps higher than justified, as a "rogue" agency not afraid to push back against the new administration. While that perception surely gained life only due to social media, the agency didn't seek the attention, as a whole doesn't view itself as a rogue organization, and has since worked hard to maintain a low profile. Indeed, the fact that the uproar was caused by the actions of a former employee undermines any contention that the Park Service went rogue after the inauguration.
At Badlands, the tweets were quickly removed from the park's Twitter account, not because of their content but because they were unauthorized, and a bit later that afternoon, a former park employee admitted his actions.
"I changed the password a few months back, but when setting up a Twitter account for my own personal use discovered the cookies had left me logged into the Badlands account on the Hootsuite autoscheduler," the former employee said in an email to Badlands Superintendent Mike Pflaum. "I swear that I no longer have the login information. ... I accept full responsibility for my actions."
That admission was buried within 90 megabytes of files released last week by the Park Service in response to numerous media Freedom of Information Act requests. The tweets kindled the rise of "alt-" Park Service social media accounts set up to counter the Trump administration's positions on science, climate change, and even the president's claims of "fake" news.
Whether the former employee was charged with any crime was not reflected in the documents.
The four tweets sent shockwaves through the Park Service as staff around the country worked to temporarily shut down their social media accounts while passwords were changed:
The pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93 ppm. -- sent about 11:40 a.m. ET on January 24.
Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.-- Sent a short time later.
Flipside of the atmosphere: ocean acidity has increased 30% since the Industrial Revolution. "Ocean Acidification." -- Posted an hour later.
Burning one gallon of gasoline puts nearly 20lbs of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. -- Posted about 30 minutes later.
While Alexandra Picavet, the Midwest Region's communications chief, proposed following up with a series of tweets designed to explain how climate change had sculpted Badlands, the Park Service's chief of communications in Washington, Thomas Crosson, scuttled her idea.
Among the correspondence dug up as a result of the FOIAs were dozens of kudos via email, letters, and postcards to Badlands officials.
As a citizen who is deeply concerned about Trump's climate change denial and general anti-science attitude, I would just like to say that I appreciate the resistance that your twitter account showed by tweeting climate change facts even when Trump was trying to freeze communication. I reassures me that people are already trying to resist in whatever way they can. Thanks and good luck.
I'm writing to commend the Badlands National Park tweeter who likely put their job at risk to tweet out a few stats on climate change after the executive order for all Department of Interior bureaus to “immediately cease use of government Twitter accounts,” was issued by President Donald Trump. In a low time in American history, when facts are being disputed by the highest office in the land, the tweets from Badlands National Park were a welcome and lone beacon of hope. So thank you. Facts are real! I made a donation to the NPS in honor of the Badlands Tweeter today
THANK YOU for sending out the tweets related to climate change yesterday! I am so impressed and inspired by your courage in standing up to the science-denying Trump administration. I had the privilege of visiting the Badlands six years ago and was enchanted by the landscape. I was thrilled to be reminded of your awesomeness yesterday. Keep promoting and sharing facts. Keep standing up for science and our environment. I am with you. Thank you!
Our national parks are in invaluable resource; I support your efforts to educate the public on the risks associated with climate change.
YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME with the Twitter. keep it up. I love you guys. It may not seem like much, just sending some tweets that are probably not allowed any more, but it is, it means a lot to me and perhaps to other people as well. hell, you might even have voted for Trump this past November, but you're courageously going against the ban does you and the people of your good state honor. Bravo, a US Citizen in Paris.
A friend of mine was told we could write to you to express our appreciation that the Badlands National Park Twitter account stood up to the new anti-science administration with its climate change posts. I hope you know how many thousands -- tens of thousands, and probably far more -- are so glad you did, and feel buoyed by it. I do. Please continue spreading rigorously-vetted evidence-based science!
There also were some that disapproved of the tweets.
How about you follow the orders of your Commander In Chief. What a disgrace. I hope whoever posted the climate information is held accountable. I worked under Obama and respectfully did everything he asked, especially when I didn't believe in it. Find some honor.
Badlands is my favorite national park. I have visited it more than 30 times, camping there more than 10 times. I love it. I have a poster of it in my office. I also voted for Donald Trump for President. I never ignored an order from President Obama. But, evidently someone there thinks they are above the law and the will of the American people expressed in this last election. Now what am I to do. The poster is in my office, but somehow it has lost its appeal to me. Look. The climate changes. We know that. It is science. But, climate change has been politicized. It does not need to be. The computer models that predict doomsday are just conjectures. They are not science. Other models could predict just the opposite. Input. Output. Get over it. Unnecessary. You have an order. You are getting a paycheck. A taxpayer funded paycheck. Obey the order. And stop the nonsense. Let me love Badlands without the drama. Thank you. 66 year old Grandpa who loves camping with his grandkids -- in Badlands
So you want to tweet your climate change crap and be political. I hope Trump defunds your park and closes it. And you all get laidoff playing your games quit being political and run the damn park.
The Park Service updated its social media guidelines in late January, but they were not included within the documents released by the agency.