Understanding Information Oppression in the Era of Trump

If you’ve been waking up recently and feeling as though you’ve landed in the middle of George Orwell’s 1984, you’re not alone. Trump’s familiar dismissal of the media with regard to his character, actions and policy has gone beyond the expected display of petulance. The Trump administration’s actions of late reflect tactics of censorship, gaslighting and downright absurdity that can only be defined as information oppression.

Trump’s war on environmentalism has begun with glaring censorship. Of course, Trump and his administration make no secret of their disinterest in issues regarding climate or the environment, and the institutions dedicated to protecting both.

To begin, one of the very first actions made by the Trump administration was to remove pages concerning climate change, among many others, from the White House website. During the Obama administration the page had been filled with factual evidence regarding human accountability, and detailed the government projects in place in that work to combat further environmental degradation and climate change. The vital information was previously freely available to the public and it ceased to exist less than a day after Trump’s inauguration.

The White House page outlines the administration’s agenda, and this elimination clearly announced that not only does the Trump administration not see climate change as a concern, but that the public shouldn’t either. This restriction actively prevents public knowledge of, and thereby discussion about an issue with which Trump and his team disagree.

The administration has since forwarded its acts of censorship onto the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Numerous reports reveal that the Trump administration has been impeding the free exchange of information from several agencies including the EPA, and that the EPA has been ordered to limit its speech regarding climate change.

Two EPA communications officials were ordered to remove information about climate change from the agency’s website. While this information would still exist in archives, it would be effectively inaccessible to the public.

Moreover, after the National Park Service retweeted messages that negatively compared the crowd sizes at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration to Donald Trump’s inauguration, representatives from the Trump administration asked the Interior Department’s digital team to halt all use of Twitter. The National Park Service complied, and the White House claimed that they ordered the tweeting halt out of fear that the Twitter was hacked.

The idea behind this action is unsurprising as Trump has never taken a joke at his expense lightly. Yet to require a nation organization to suspend its use of public social media is a bevy of censorship and a blatant infringement on freedom of speech. Just days after the inauguration, a suspension of an organization’s social media privileges is indicative of an administration that already feels it can abuse its power by imposing censorship on its federal organizations if and when it feels threatened.

The Badlands National Park Twitter gave Trump a taste of his own medicine by posting a slew of tweets reporting scientifically accurate information regarding climate change. Almost amusingly, the Badlands National Park service retaliated against Trump in the president’s preferred forum for bullying and distributing false information. The Park Service’s tweets have since been removed.

Other agencies are also targets for future liquidation. Trump and his administration also plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as well as privatize The Corporation for Public Broadcasting in an effort to “substantially slash government spending.” This massive elimination would entail syphoning virtually all funding to programs such as The Institute of Museum and Library Services, which provides grants to the country’s public museums and libraries.

Eliminating the NEA and NEH keeps intellectual and artistic resources from the public and would effectively suppresses public discussion about, exploration of and investment in the humanities. And in reality, these “spending cuts” amount to a very minimal portion of the overall government budget. So why go to such lengths to inhibit the public from utilizing artistic and educational services?

Defunding these departments simply compounds a frightening message that has been in the making for months: the accessibility of public information is not necessary if it does not actively support Trump’s agenda.

Two weeks ago, the Trump administration temporarily blacklisted CNN for allegedly promoting fake news about the administration. A White House spokesperson addressed the matter, explaining that the administration will be “sending surrogates to places where we think it makes sense to promote our agenda.”

After one week of refusing to allow Trump officials on CNN, a White House spokesperson explained that the “ban” would not be permanent, but gave no indication as to when it will be fully lifted. Until this freezing out comes to an end, the Trump administration is vigorously ostracizing a news media source for challenging, sometimes opposing, and demanding explanation from new White House representatives.

And of course, the media has not be able to forget about Kellyanne Conway’s use of “alternative facts” as a defense against accusations that the White House had knowingly lied to the press about inauguration turnout, among other trivialities. Rightfully so, the media has not let up on the administration for its defense of alternative facts as a legitimate case for knowingly distributing falsehoods en masse.

While the concept of alternative facts seems rightfully absurd and even laughable, it actually serves as one of the most terrifying stunts the administration has pulled to date. If Trump and his cronies have been attempting to blur the line between fact and fiction all along, they’re succeeding, and it’s a kind of evil genius.

It is easy to dismiss Trump’s relationship with the media as petulant, in some cases even amusing. But what has been unfolded and escalating in the few days since Trump has taken office has proven to be more than one man’s feud with the media. The administration’s actions are a threat to responsible journalism, public faith in its elected officials, and even logic itself in cases where terms like “alternative facts” are seen by a presidential administration as unproblematic.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum felt so compelled by the Trump administration’s recent actions as to publicize a poster outlining the “Early Warning Signs of Fascism.” One of the principal steps in this process: controlled mass media.

In isolation, each of the administration’s tactics reflect the same sort of cynicism about the media which Trump displayed throughout his entire campaign. But this pattern of shady actions that seem to excommunicate information and opinion deviant from the views of the Trump administration, and Trump himself suggests and end goal of homogenous thought.

So is Trump waging war on the media? Science? Facts, themselves? It may be too early to tell. However, the administration’s escalating techniques for media control and information suppression require an escalating imperative for the defense of truth above all else.

This volatile situation played out in a variety of ways. Certain messages must be upheld loud and clear: facts are not at anyone’s discretion to debate, science does not cease to be true simply because you give it the cold-shoulder, and the disruption of free exchange of information should be fought in every capacity.

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