In the past, the Badlands National Park Twitter feed was a place to ogle beautiful, jagged mountain tops and turkey vultures, but Tuesday it became an unexpected center of protest. Around the same time news broke that the Trump administration had instituted a gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture’s research department (rescinded Tuesday night), @BadlandsNPS fired up a tweetstorm about increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and ocean acidification. After a few glorious hours of onlooker praise, the climate-change-related tweets were unceremoniously deleted. Online bystanders who had witnessed the drama unfold wondered aloud whether the person behind the account had been fired.
Whatever their fate, the mysterious hero behind @BadlandsNPS — who was reportedly a “former employee” — joins a small handful of social media managers who have gone rogue since Trump’s election. Each one has offered us a special, singular meltdown. In November, the account for the Office of Government Ethics praised Trump for promising to divest from his businesses in a series of tweets that seemed to mock his exclamation-point-heavy writing style. (Later, it was revealed that OGE Director Walter Shaub Jr. wrote these tweets and was scolded for them.) On Inauguration Day, the National Parks Service retweeted an image that showed side-by-side aerial views of the crowds that gathered for the swearing-in of both Trump and Obama in 2009. (Despite subsequent excuses from White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Trump’s crowd was visibly smaller.) The agency’s “mistaken” retweets earned it temporary suspension.
Each of these mini-panic attacks seem to have something in common: They were triggered by a single person’s sheer inability to process the perceived threat that Donald Trump poses to our democracy (a genre of tweet we’re seeing a lot of lately). According to ethics experts, Trump’s business interests already violate the Constitution. Leading up to his swearing-in, Trump exaggerated and lied about the expected crowd sizes, which is probably horrifying for an environmentalist banking on facts to save the environment. And, based on Tuesday’s actions, Trump has no problem preventing taxpayer-run institutions from speaking to the public if their science-based information doesn’t line up with his political stances. The people behind the aforementioned Twitter accounts reacted by wielding what little power they had. Tweetstorms are rarely elegant, but they are always telling.
In the case of the Badlands National Park account, a few simple tweets about science sparked a small movement among other government accounts. The National Parks account — despite the fact that it had just returned from its temporary suspension — quoted a @BadlandsNPS tweet in solidarity (it was also later deleted). Twitter sleuths then discovered and retweeted a Monday post from Golden Gate Park that said 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third year in a row. Another verified account, @NASAClimate, joined in to offer its own graph on rising carbon dioxide levels. At this point, keeping these feeds in line is probably just as hard as maintaining that elaborately coiffed thing atop Trump’s head. Some social media managers might be vigilantes, some excellent subtweeters, and some might not yet be aware that in Trump’s America, facts about the environment are not allowed to be tweeted. Whatever the reason for their tweets, there is at least some relief in solidarity. It’s comforting and encouraging to watch a handful of nameless people within government agencies fight this absurd decree.
It’s terrifying that posting scientifically proven facts is one of the many things considered to be “brave” in 2017. But here we are. A Scientists’ March on Washington is already in the works. Let’s all keep this tweet from Badlands National Park in mind for the hard times ahead.