The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency has seen an interesting uptick in accounts purporting to be run by U.S. government agencies. And it’s not just the “rogue” NASA and National Park Service accounts that are trying to make America aware of certain hot-button issues perceived to be unimportant or irrelevant to the Trump administration. But is it possible that they may run afoul of federal law and be prosecuted accordingly?
According to a report from NPR, both Rogue NASA and AltUSNatParkService Twitter accounts have been big hits on social media, with the latter account boasting over a million followers at one point. The former account now has over 700,000 followers, and it clearly states that it is not in any way, shape, or form affiliated with NASA, and not operated by anyone in the government.
“The unofficial ‘Resistance’ team of NASA. Not an official NASA account. Not managed by gov’t employees. Come for the facts, stay for the snark.”
In fact, Rogue NASA, AltUSNatParkService, and AltUSForestService are just three of the many Twitter accounts fighting the Trump administration through snark, satire, and relevant content about climate change and other hot-button issues. NPR wrote that there are more than 80 such accounts at the present, with these accounts typically including the words “rogue,” “resistance,” or “alt” in their name.
Rains From Thunderstorms Rising Rapidly in Europe, Asia https://t.co/KeV8FnumQH— Rogue NASA (@RogueNASA) January 28, 2017
While most of the account descriptions now include a disclaimer stating they are not affiliated with U.S. government agencies, nobody has stepped up to admit involvement in any of them. These account owners, wrote NPR, are choosing to protect their anonymity as they tweet about climate change and show their “direct opposition” to the Trump administration and its policies.
Indeed, the operators of Rogue NASA and their ilk are basking in their anonymity and watching their accounts grow in popularity. But there are legal experts who believe the FBI and other agencies may crack down on them at some point in the future, The Independent wrote.
George Washington University law professor spoke to The Independent and stressed that U.S. government employees or ex-employees using federal accounts to post unauthorized messages may likely be prosecuted under federal law – the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, specifically.
“The argument would be that the authorization to use the account was only for employees and implicitly that was extinguished when the employee left government employment.”
Ranchers report excessive livestock deaths as Atlas Chemical Plant belches in the background. Protecting the environment protects ranchers. pic.twitter.com/NnrqOCTlnZ— Discover EPA (@Disco_EPA) January 28, 2017
Similarly, a former government official believes that government agency employees allowed to use their agency accounts may get in trouble with federal law for posting messages “they weren’t supposed to write.” Cybersecurity lawyer and former Department of Homeland Security official Stewart Baker also hinted that this may also apply to the people behind Rogue NASA and other “alt-” or “resistance” accounts of a similar nature.
“If someone says you may not tweet except in these circumstances, and you tweet in other circumstances, you’re exceeding authority. It wouldn’t surprise me if at this stage a criminal investigation was opened and criminal tools were used to investigate this, even if at the end of the day they decided not to pursue criminal charges.”
Still, that doesn’t seem to be dissuading the people behind these “rogue” accounts, said NPR in its report from Friday. Tucson meteorologist Eric Holthaus was quoted as saying that he has yet to identify the administrators of these accounts, but still believes that the issues being discussed on the accounts, primarily climate change, are still in the best interest of the people in the early days of the Trump administration.
“I think that it’s natural that scientists would want to retain their political power and say ‘this is not OK and we as scientists want to stand up for fact-based policy and spreading the truth that human activity is changing the climate.’”
At this point in the game, it won’t be surprising if Rogue NASA and the like are joined by more ersatz federal accounts tweeting jokes or snarky remarks about Donald Trump and his administration in the near future. And while the tone of these Twitter posts is often humorous or sarcastic, NPR concluded its piece by saying that the account owners’ advocacy is “normal” and within the realm of “participatory democracy.”
[Featured Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]