On the same day that President Trump planned to sign executive orders that would advance his campaign promises to build a border wall and target sanctuary cities, the Defense Department’s official Twitter account promoted a story about U.S. Marine Cpl. Ali J. Mohammed, who happens to be a refugee from Iraq.
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) January 25, 2017
“Thank you for sharing on such a day.
#refugeeswelcome #americawelcomes #greateras1,” one reply to the tweet read. Another, different opinion: “Letting foreigners in our military is a mistake #NoLoyaltyToUS” A third wondered, “Is the DoD sub-tweeting @realDonaldTrump?” The tweet gained more than 12,000 likes in half a day, catapulted by those who oppose the Trump administration’s agenda on immigration and refugees.
A tweet from a government agency promoting an inspiring story about itself shouldn’t generally be worth noting like this. But over the past several days, any tweet from any government agency that appears to subtweet the new president’s agenda has become a sudden symbol of hope for Trump’s opponents.
The digital transition between the Obama White House and his successor always promised to be interesting: While presidents have successfully passed the WhiteHouse.gov domain name between presidents twice before (Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, and Bush to Barack Obama), the White House under Obama also built up their presence on an array of platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, for instance. This is the first time that all those accounts have had to change hands.
That process happened almost in an instant, at noon on Jan. 20. And because the recipient of all those accounts was the Trump administration, the transition became a digital illustration of the political whiplash that his inauguration brings to the government.
That transition, between White House-controlled accounts, was mostly instant and smooth, with the exception of a couple of Twitter glitches that upset some of Trump’s opponents. Not so smooth, however, has been the transition of the social media presence of the rest of the executive branch, whose departments will be run by appointees of the president, with staff members comprised of both career and appointed federal workers.
Multiple agencies have faced new, temporary restrictions in the first few days of the Trump administration: The Environmental Protection Agency was ordered to halt all grants and contracts; the Agriculture Department was ordered to restrict “outward-facing” communications, for instance. The Department of the Interior also imposed some temporary social media restrictions on itself after the National Park Service’s Twitter account retweeted an image comparing the size of Obama and Trump’s inauguration crowds (those restrictions have been partially lifted). Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” so these restrictions appeared to be evidence of an attempt to crack down on government-funded research and resources that go toward understanding it.
Below is a running list of the apparent subtweets, of varying degrees of plausibility, coming from official government accounts since Trump’s inauguration. We’re also updating this post with context for each tweet as we learn it.
National Park Service
The Park Service’s verified account retweeted two tweets during the inauguration of Trump that appeared to be, well, unsympathetic to him. The first was of someone unfavorably noting changes to the White House’s official website under Trump; and the other was a crowd comparison between Obama and Trump’s inauguration that showed much smaller crowds at the latter’s.
As The Washington Post’s Lisa Rein reported, the Interior Department silenced, and then reactivated, its official Twitter presence as a result of “mistaken RT’s from our account.” The Park Service’s Twitter accounts may now tweet again, so long as they stay away from “the policy priorities of the new Interior secretary,” Rein wrote.
We regret the mistaken RTs from our account yesterday and look forward to continuing to share the beauty and history of our parks with you pic.twitter.com/mctNNvlrmv
— NationalParkService (@NatlParkService) January 21, 2017
On Jan. 23, the official Twitter account for the Golden Gate National Park Service tweeted out a link to a NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report showing that 2016 was the hottest year on record.
— Golden Gate NPS (@GoldenGateNPS) January 23, 2017
That tweet had, as of Wednesday afternoon, more than 27,000 retweets. Which, uh, doesn’t appear to be typical for that account, let alone one that, in relatively straightforward language, simply links to a government report:
— Andrew Curry (@andrewcurryla) January 25, 2017
Lots of people replying to the tweet appeared worried that the tweet would be removed in violation of the remaining Interior Department restrictions on tweeting about policy, but that so far has not been the case.
In addition to the tweet discussed at the beginning of this story, the DOD has a second tweet that people sure are reading a lot into online.
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) January 23, 2017
A lot of people are assuming that the tweet is in reference to the president’s unusual and unfiltered Twitter habits, although there are clearly other possible explanations.
Day 3 of American Dystopia, and @DeptofDefense is subtweeting the president.
— Summer Brennan (@summerbrennan) January 23, 2017
— Erick Fernandez (@ErickFernandez) January 23, 2017
On Thursday, a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters that the theory that the Department of Defense was “trolling” the administration online was “ridiculous.”
On Tuesday, Badlands National Park’s Twitter account suddenly started tweeting about climate change, becoming probably the best-known viral “hero” among Trump’s opponents in this genre.
— Nathan Rott (@NathanRott) January 24, 2017
As our colleague Darryl Fears wrote, it appears that the tweets came from a former Badlands employee who somehow still had access to the Twitter account. “The park was not told to remove the tweets but chose to do so when they realized that their account had been compromised,” a NPS official told The Post.
On Wednesday, the Death Valley account for the National Park Service started tweeting about Togo Tanaka, a Japanese American journalist who was interned during World War II.
"We want the opportunity they have to prove their loyalty. We are asked to accept a denial of that privilege in the name of patriotism." pic.twitter.com/4JedTyfX57
— Death Valley NP (@DeathValleyNPS) January 25, 2017
On Wednesday morning, NOAA’s climate-focused account tweeted out a link to its FAQ on global warming and climate change.
— NOAA Climate.gov (@NOAAClimate) January 25, 2017
The U.S. Arctic Research Commission
The U.S. Arctic Research Commission tweeted the following on Wednesday:
It didn’t stay up for long, however. Although the USARC Twitter account is not verified, the Commission’s .gov website links to the account, indicating that it is, in fact, official.
And it appears that an assumption among some who saw the tweet — that the USARC itself was going on hiatus — is not currently the case. According to a person familiar with the matter, the tweet was meant to communicate to the public that only the Twitter account itself was going to take a break, a decision that came from within the commission and not from the White House.
Redwood National and State Parks
The NPS account for the Redwood parks in California tweeted out this factoid:
— Redwood N&S Parks (@RedwoodNPS) January 25, 2017
U.S. Fish and Wildlife
When threatened, musk oxen form a defensive perimeter, tail to tail, with their heads facing out in a stationary ring around their calves. pic.twitter.com/6CnS7wob8B
— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) January 26, 2017
This is a perfectly normal and innocent thing for U.S. Fish and Wildlife to tweet. But this week, there are plenty of people who are choosing to take it as something else:
Joshua Tree National Park
May all those who visit find inspiration in the resilience of desert life- which in the harshest of conditions find a way to thrive pic.twitter.com/BZ9utPy7hy
— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) January 26, 2017
And may they be reminded that sometimes, even the hardiest of all of nature needs protecting too. pic.twitter.com/esvoeEpclD
— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) January 26, 2017
The Manhattan Project National Historic Park
Even National Park Service-affiliated accounts that haven’t had tweets taken to be subtweets of the Trump administration are seeing an increase of followers this week. Some, like the Manhattan Project, are tweeting to thank all their new followers.
Welcome to all of our new followers! We're thrilled you found us for whatever the reason. #Feelingthelove
— ManhattanProjectNHP (@MnhtnProjectNPS) January 26, 2017
[This post, originally published on January 25, has been updated multiple times]