Trump’s Weird Twitter Fight With the National Parks Service

As many of us know, the combination of President Donald Trump and Twitter can be trouble, but over the weekend, he dragged the National Parks Service into it. After the agency (possibly accidentally) retweeted something uncomplimentary on Inauguration Day, the Parks Service was ordered to stop using all Twitter accounts after it apparently hurt the new president’s feelings. If that sounds bizarre, the story within the story gets even weirder.

First, the tweet in question.

The New York Times’ Washington correspondent fired this one out as part of the conversation surrounding the turnout for the inauguration, which appeared pretty lackluster. Having it show up on the Parks account was a little bit strange, though the agency does report on events in and around federal property and offers information about news of note. What seems likely is that someone with access to the account sent a tweet meant for their personal account — it wouldn’t have been the first time.

The White House retaliated with a Twitter blackout — one that was quickly lifted, likely in response to outraged comments.

However, the issue raised two important and very distinct issues.

The first is how the government embraced the use of social media under President Obama, with a growing number of government agencies using social media for outreach, communication and education. Employees of the National Parks Service even use social media for something pretty critical: safety warnings. While there are lots of ways to find that information, if you’re used to seeing it on Twitter, you might assume that the absence of warnings means no outstanding precautions are listed — and you could have been wrong.

Cutting off the National Parks Service deprives the agency of opportunities to connect with the public, including a chance to offer vital safety information through yet another channel. And the agency, like many others, likes to have fun on social media too — a goofy post now and then makes light of the parks and their history and humanizes the agency for members of the public.

The American public deserves to have access to information from the government via every available means. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a series of attempts to constrict access, including legislation and official White House policy. That bodes poorly for a free and fair nation.

There’s another issue too, though, and that is the longstanding history of restrictions on speech from civil servants, including through government agencies. One reason for this restriction is the concern that government employees carry more weight, or could be perceived as speaking for their agencies. There’s also a worry that politics could interfere with function — if you arrived at a campsite and the ranger was wearing a pin advertising political views that differ from yours, for example, that might make you feel uncomfortable.

Under that policy, one could argue that the tweet in question was more than an informative message, but a political comment. It might be tough to prove either way, as one could argue that information about numbers of inauguration attendees is in the public interest, that the National Parks Service would have those numbers, and that a photo handily illustrates them in an accessible format. If the tweet was a political statement, removing it from the official count (as was done) and reprimanding the employees responsible might be reasonable, but they set a dangerous precedent.

When is a tweet just a tweet, and when could it be construed as political? That’s a question many government employees handling social media may be asking themselves in coming years as they consider whether information they’re providing for the public interest might be construed as a dig at the White House. Is talking about climate change going to become political speech? What about reporting statistics on civil rights violations? Or informing people about U.S.-Russia relations?

Photo credit: Su-May

96 comments

Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 years ago

Claire: I disagree, the National Park Service should go full blast in attack mode to destroy Trump. Trump is a psycho who not only wants to destroy the National Parks, he wants to destroy the future of life on Earth.

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Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Clare O
Clare O2 years ago

How come this page carried an ad for a petition that closed two years ago?

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Clare O
Clare O2 years ago

I am glad the Parks can communicate again. I don't use twitter but others do.

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Clare O
Clare O2 years ago

Yes, I'd agree that the National Park Service should stick to information about the parks. An employee can send political comment from their own twitter account in their own free time.

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Carl R
Carl R2 years ago

Thanks for the information!!!

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Rhonda B
.2 years ago

Trump, Pence & Co. are all stupid, evil and greedy.

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Karen Swenson
Karen S2 years ago

So you admit you treated Democrats/Obama with Hate---All three of you certainly know all about medication--hate and lashing out--- It says in your Bible you are always picking through- until you latch onto some obscure verse and twist it to your liking--that you are to treat others just as you would like to be treated, which to you three/Republicans means-- HATE ME--. Republicans are incurable dyslectics and see things backwards--with up being down--right being wrong-- Naked Melina being classy--Liar and cheat-Trump being a moral man-- Democrats recognizing a mad man and speaking up about it constitutes awareness and reality--something Republicans do not understand-- being the party of stupid.

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Amy L
Amy L2 years ago

Often those with psychotic disorders lash out at others in ways that don't make sense. Only in their alternative realities are they able to justify their words and actions. Medication can sometimes help.

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