Dear Mr. Jack Dorsey,
Federal employees who created so-called alternative @alt government accounts in response to the Trump Administration’s media gag orders need your help. I’m speaking about the people behind such accounts as @altUSEPA, @blm_alt, @realALTNPS, and many others.
As the new administration assaults the established science of climate change, questions the worth of labor statistics, and generally undoes decades of work by dedicated civil servants, these @alt accounts are proving to be a vital bulwark for inconvenient truths. I urge you to work with managers of these accounts, validate their association with the agencies they work for, and grant them verified account status.
“For alt gov accounts, a mechanism for verification would be of assistance in maintaining the integrity of the alt voice,” said the creator of an @alt account, who as a current federal employee requested anonymity. “Alt accounts are speaking different perspectives — some are run by current agency employees, some by former agency employees, and some by outside supporters.”
Managers of @alt accounts tied to federal agencies are confronting the scourge of fake @alt accounts that spread misinformation, behave like evil trolls, and even seek profit. In some ways, it’s not an unexpected result of the anything-goes nature of Twitter. After all, anybody with internet access can create an account and spread fake news at the speed of light. Yet it’s Twitter’s openness that allows for dissent from the @alt accounts in the first place.
“[Some] accounts using the alt name are more questionable, and for some these fake alt accounts, the goal is simply to build a following that can be exploited financially,” the source told VentureBeat. “Such accounts water down or pollute the message that most of the legitimate alt accounts come together on — a message in support of democracy, of the constitution, of an important role for government in supporting the health and well being of the people of the United States, and for effective work by government to accomplish agency goals.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. Twitter already has a process that can help ensure @alt accounts are indeed what they claim to be. It’s called “verified account status” — the little blue checkmark that Twitter confers upon public figures, journalists, and companies likely to be impersonated.
For instance, conferring a blue checkmark of verification would validate the identities of the people behind these accounts.
- Environmental Protection Agency: @altUSEPA consists of “The Unofficial ‘Resistance’ team of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”
- Bureau of Land Management: @blm_alt consists of “indiv. BLM employees”
- National Park Service: @realALTNPS consists of “The official ‘Resistance’ team of U.S. National Park Service”
Although Twitter is not a journalistic enterprise in the traditional sense, it is a media company, and with that comes certain rights and obligations. While I’m not a lawyer, I’d expect your company can hire skilled attorneys to make a first amendment defense and protect the identities of those federal employees who risk their careers. Not only do you have the resources to fight subpoenas, but it’s a safe bet that your server farms are better protected than a PC in someone’s home.
“Some accounts have told reporters their identities and would likely be willing to share with twitter. Others would absolutely not,” the source said. “Some alt accounts don’t care that much about verification — they are self-policing and calling out accounts that seem illegitimate. But we are also seeing requests from folks on Twitter for a breakdown of who is legit and not — so there is interest and a feeling of need.”
Mr. Dorsey, please verify and safeguard legitimate @alt accounts.
(Note: Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)