The #Resistance final project documents the “rogue” government Twitter Resistance movement that to respond to the Trump administration’s social media gag order on federal agencies. Using Documenting the Now’s twarc tool, this project reviews the activity of nine accounts in regards to their conversations, engagement, and language in parodying a government agency. Talking about everything from climate change to internal affairs of the White House, these accounts have played an important role in the coverage of the first 100 days of the Trump administration. This project seeks to document aspects of this coverage by exploring how #Resistance defines itself on Twitter.
What can we learn from “rogue” Twitter about digital activism? What can this movement teach us about advocacy and government in digital public spaces? And where do these two ideas fit into the larger aims of Twitter culture – as noise, or as something greater?
Why Does Rogue Twitter Matter to Digital Storytelling?
In relation to our Digital Storytelling course, #Resistance touches on all three themes addressed through the semester. Regarding Distortion, these accounts use a particular mode of storytelling – Twitter, retweets, and parody – to enact their political discourse. And though they generated in response to a specific silence of information, their own conversations around the Trump administration also seeks to distort at times. In the wake of “fake news,” these rogue accounts sought to bring awareness to specific issues. And by distorting the voice and image of federal agencies, these accounts push a specific agenda of resistance and dissent towards the Trump administration. But what stance might these “concerned citizens” take on in the future of this administration? And with the amount of followers and attention these accounts received in the wake of certain social media incidents in the federal government, what responsibility do these activists have to their audience to really think through the concept of distortion?
Regarding Curation, thinking of how to harness social media content and work with it as data presents a fascinating discussion. Twarc is a successful tool for this type of documentation, but there are also questions around the ephemeral nature of accounts like these. During the 2016 election cycle, memes and moments for pop culture appeared almost daily – how many parody accounts exist on Twitter for these moments in time? Even the Core77 article, which attempted to compile as many agency-related accounts as possible, missed multiple accounts. And many of them no longer existed by the time of this research, or fell out of use by their creators. How do we harness ephemerality on the Twitter? And how do we curate through questions like tone and voice – what metadata is useful from the Twitter API? What information might be more helpful
And finally, in Transformation, the longterm questions associated with this project speak to both sides of the coin. How does hashtag activism change the ways in which we operate future protest movements? How do we capitalize on grassroots activism in the digital sphere, and what relationships can we already see building among this network? What does Twitter – as a platform, community, and voice or personality – offer to political dissent? And what does #Resistance offer Twitter?
But there is also something to be said regarding transforming government as well. Typically, in thinking of the ways in which digital storytelling may transform cities, we think of the quantified data embedded within government work. But movements like the #Resistance beg questions about government communication as well. In their parody of government agencies, the popularity of rogue accounts suggests that followers want a more personal perspective from these agencies. The casual nature and conversational tone (even snarky, at times) that the rogue accounts take attracts attention because they challenge the role of federal government agencies – and increasingly, the federal government – on social media platforms. In the issues and people that these rogue accounts discuss, what can the federal government start to incorporate into their practice?
Unlike individual accounts, federal government social media accounts typically maintain a standard, nonpartisan voice. But these accounts, and those involved in the federal government, increasingly take on a more vitriolic, cynical tone that is common of Twitter as a whole. In adopting the voice of Twitter, what might we expect from future administrations? Should we find @EPA of the future spouting memes and referring to issues of other agencies? Or will we see an increased tightening of the language and information being shared on government accounts, to the point where Twitter may not fit into the social media of these agencies?
So this project represents a way to tie these themes together – the use of digital tools for distortion or amplification of media; the use of digital tools for curation of data; and the ways of rethinking the relationships between digital tools and institutions. And as a long-term project, I hope to posit this case study as an opportunity to continue the work of this course: to use digital tools to extract, curate, and visualize Twitter data while rethinking how digital storytelling operates in social movements, activism, and government for digital public spaces.
Emily Esten is an MA student in Public Humanities at Brown University. More info on me and examples of my work may be found at https://www.emilyesten.com.