Those ‘Rogue’ Government Twitter Accounts Are Going Viral Because of Fake-News Impulses

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Photo: AltUSNationalParkService/Twitter, Getty Images

As the first full week of the Trump administration draws to a close, many anti-Trump Twitter users have been heartened by the rise of a group of more than 50 (according to CNN) “rogue” Twitter accounts supposedly affiliated with U.S. government employees. These employees, the story goes, have been disgruntled by moves the administration has made to tamp down on these agency’s abilities to spread their messages — particularly messages having to do with subjects like climate changes — and have taken to Twitter to resist Trump’s authoritarianism.

As a result, some of these accounts have quickly amassed huge followings — 1.25 million for the most famous one, @AltNatParkSer. But at the moment, according to multiple news stories about the accounts, no one really knows who is behind them, since it doesn’t appear anyone has verified the identities of the Tweeters. Therefore, Anti-Trumpers who spread them are engaging in the exact same sort of motivated, credulous sharing that fuels the dissemination of all sorts of crazy internet rumors, including those which targeted Hillary Clinton during the campaign.

By now, a few outlets, including Vice, have criticized the lack of verification. But less attention has been paid to the sharing dynamic that has helped these accounts blow up in the first place. People who share these accounts and their tweets desperately want it to be the case that some brave government staffers are tweeting their resistance to the Trump agenda. Because they want it to be true, they don’t bother to ask the questions they would ask if the information didn’t confirm their political biases — they retweet and like and share in a way they simply wouldn’t in other cases.

Now, to be sure, there’s mountains of evidence fake news is a bigger problem on the right than the left, so this isn’t an attempt to draw a false analogy. Plus, the content of many of these tweets is simply stuff that is plainly true, like that man-made climate change is real. But if we’re really worried about fake news, we should adopt coherent standards for when we do and don’t share information — those standards can’t waver just because the message is one we want to hear. Remember that in some cases, the fake news liberals denounced during the election wasn’t even necessarily stuff that had been fully debunked or could be straightforwardly debunked — the rumor about Clinton saying she wished she could drone-strike Assange, for example, rested on pretty ridiculous and hard to pin down anonymous sourcing. Rather, it spread before it had been verified by anyone with credibility.

This could be a moment for a bit of humility. Many, if not most, of the people helping disseminate these unverified “rogue” accounts have probably griped about how easily misinformation spread about Clinton. But misinformation isn’t a problem restricted to one ideology or any specific set of personality characteristics: As long as we’re willing to share stuff with our friends and followers without making sure it’s legit, the world will only become a more confusing and conspiracy-prone place.

Don’t Retweet Those ‘Rogue’ Government Twitter Accounts