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Internet Policies

A Cold Wind Is Now Blowing Through Government Social Media

By Keith Cowing
December 14, 2015
Filed under
A Cold Wind Is Now Blowing Through Government Social Media

B-326944, Environmental Protection Agency–Application of Publicity or Propaganda and Anti-Lobbying Provisions, December 14, 2015, GAO
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated publicity or propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts with its use of certain social media platforms in association with its “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rulemaking in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Specifically, EPA violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition though its use of a platform known as Thunderclap that allows a single message to be shared across multiple Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts at the same time. EPA engaged in covert propaganda when the agency did not identify EPA’s role as the creator of the Thunderclap message to the target audience. The agency’s #DitchtheMyth and #CleanWaterRules social media campaigns did not implicate the publicity or propaganda prohibition. EPA also violated anti-lobbying provisions though its hyperlinks to certain external Web pages in an EPA blog post. Both of the external Web pages led to appeals to the public to contact Congress in support of the WOTUS rule, which taken in context, constituted appeals to contact Congress in opposition to pending legislation. EPA associated itself with these messages through its decision to include the hyperlinks in its blog post.”
E.P.A. Broke Law With Social Media Push for Water Rule, Auditor Finds, NY Times
“I can guarantee you that general counsels across the federal government are reading this report,” said Michael Eric Hertz, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York who has written on social media and the government.”

Dear NASA: Some Things Are More Important Than You, earlier post
“CRISPR was leading Pluto in the Science magazine poll until NASA decided to skew the results by using its 13.5 million follower Twitter account to tell people to vote for Pluto. No doubt the mission’s PI will be jumping up and down and crowing about how popular Pluto is when in fact NASA stuffed the ballot box.”
Keith’s note: On one hand NASA does a wonderful job of using multiple social media platforms to distribute information about what it does with taxpayer dollars. One the other hand it sometimes tries to tip the balance to affect the perception of what it does on non-NASA websites — as was the case with the “Breakthrough” poll in Science magazine. Congress wants NASA to explain itself yet it puts forbidding language in legislation to thwart them from doing so. That said, NASA is trying convince everyone that a mission to Mars without funding, an architecture, or a plan – is somehow real by using that #JourneyToMars hashtag in virtually everything it generates these days – even if there is no obvious connection to a mission to Mars.
This GAO ruling about whatever EPA was up to is bound to have an impact on NASA. In the end, however, I’m not sure it will be a positive impact.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.