When 'social gov' goes quiet
Are agencies experiencing tweet anxiety?
Inauguration Day retweets about crowd size landed the National Park Service's Twitter account -- and those of other Interior Department bureaus -- in temporary time out until social media guidance could be clarified. Activity resumed the next day, but @NatlParkService posts since then have come at a far slower page -- and many other agencies across government seem to be tweeting carefully as well.
The Park Service's drop-off, in fact, is more modest than most. From Jan. 20 through midday on Jan. 24, the agency tweeted 10 times, compared to 23 times in the week leading up to Inauguration Day -- or roughly one less tweet per day.
The primary Twitter accounts of the General Services Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and office of Government Ethics Twitter accounts, meanwhile, went completely silent. GSA's innovation shop 18F, which tweeted 20 times in the week leading up to Inauguration Day, did so just once in the days following. The Department of Education account went from 66 posts to four, while the Department of Interior went from 68 to three. The EPA maintains 40 official Twitter accounts. They have collectively issued six tweets since Jan. 20.
There are a few possible reasons for the relative quiet. Some communications and digital-team employees were political appointees, and have not yet been replaced. Career employees may be treading carefully until their new bosses are on board. And agencies in addition to Interior may have received new social media guidance instructing them stick to the basics. (Various media reports have put EPA and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture in that category.)
None of the digital team members FCW contacted were willing to comment, given the sensitivities surrounding the transition. But Interior Department employees said other components now felt limited by the Park Service kerfuffle, and individuals elsewhere in government doubted that any agency would willingly stop sharing about their programs and missions.
White House officials did not immediately respond to FCW's questions about any new social media guidance outside of Interior. White House Communications Director Sean Spicer, speaking in the Jan. 24 daily briefing, said he did not know whether restrictions had been imposed at some agencies, but that "we're looking into it."
He added, however, that reviews of agency policies should be expected "when there’s an administration turnover."
And of course, some agencies may simply be focusing efforts elsewhere at a very busy time. (The White House team, for example, clearly has leadership in place and free rein to tweet at @WhiteHouse, but has done so at less than one-fourth the pace the Obama team did in its final week)
But while the Twitter accounts FCW examined were down almost across the board, the drop-offs were far sharper with agencies the Trump administration has criticized -- the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, for example -- than for those that are more security-related like the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. DHS, in fact, was the outlier -- tweeting at almost five times the frequency since Inauguration Day as it did the previous week. The individual accounts of the Department of Veterans Affairs' regional medical centers remain active, but the principle headquarters account is down since the switchover to the Trump administration.
Other media outlets have reported that some agencies have been instructed to suspend all "external communications."
Change in average daily tweets since Inauguration Day
Daily averages based on totals from Jan. 13-19 and from Jan. 20 through noon ET on Jan. 24.
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.