Rogue Twitter Accounts and the Spectacle of Governance

As the Trump Administration has sought a media blackout for government agencies and employees, a crop of “rogue” Twitter accounts has sprung up to replace the now-silenced official ones. Tweets from @RogueNASA and @AltForestSer, @AltNatParkSer and @altUSEPA claim to be from federal employees working outside of government strictures, providing information and statistics pertinent to areas of federal policy to which President Trump has shown hostility, most notably climate science. That’s right; to combat the Tweeting President, we have Tweeting whistleblowers.

Most interestingly, a slew of accounts claiming to be from White House staffers have appeared, including at least one that has been taken seriously by established (if not mainstream) online media outlets such as the Daily Kos. Their information is essentially unverifiable, as are their identities, yet they have accumulated hundreds of thousands of followers.

In the wake of the media blackout of federal agencies, many traditional news outlets established secure dropboxes for whistleblowers, including the Guardian and the Washington Post. Twitter accounts, however, bypass the editorial standards and information vetting that would be required for publication in mainstream media, seeking to involve the public directly in their own activities. In other words, they are exactly like President Trump’s Twitter account, which seeks to avoid media “dishonesty” (his word) by giving us direct access to his every thought as it occurs to him. (It has been demonstrated, for example, that on at least three occasions since November he has Tweeted phrases or statistics verbatim as they appeared mere moments earlier on Fox News.) Both President Trump and the “rogue” accounts seek to make what is public seem private, and what is private seem public. Everything that would normally occur behind closed doors has been put up to our judgment and demands our response, while information that is publicly subsidized is presented as treasonous. When President Trump is called a “reality television president,” it is this cloak-and-dagger comedy played out before our eyes that is really meant.

Being a part of an informed citizenry is one of the bases of our Constitution, but it is now laced with a sense of subversion, even espionage. Though the information shared on these accounts is generally public knowledge or (in the case of the White House accounts especially) confirmation of existing biases, the atmosphere of censorship that the President has brought to US culture in less than a month at the helm makes each 140-character missive seem like the Pentagon Papers. By linking our publicly-funded knowledge to the drama of government intrigue, these Twitter accounts further the work of the current administration to turn governance into reality television, only now we are not merely the spectators, we are a part of the drama.

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