EPA Caught Using Social Media as Propaganda

Monday, December 21, 2015
(graphic: NACWA)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was found last week to have used social media illegally to create a propaganda campaign.


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that the EPA’s campaign to promote the Waters of the United States rule violated the law because it was an attempt to influence the public and it urged people to contact Congress in support of the rule. Propaganda and lobbying by U.S. agencies are prohibited by federal law.


Also known as the Clean Water Rule, the Waters of the United States rule was instituted last spring but put on hold by a federal appeals court while it’s appealed. The rule is designed to promote clean water by restricting how land around certain bodies of surface water may be used. It’s opposed by farmers and ranchers, business organizations and Republicans.


The GAO’s investigation of the EPA campaign had been requested by Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.


The EPA denies that its campaign was propaganda or a lobbying effort. “We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities,” Liz Purchia, an agency spokeswoman, said, according to The New York Times. “At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature.”


One message was sent out on Thunderclap, a social media tool that allows sharing on a wide scale. That message, which reached 1.8 million people at once, read: “Clean water is important to me. I support EPA’s efforts to protect it for my health, my family and my community.” The GAO ruled the message illegal, according to the Times, because during its subsequent sharing across the Internet, some may not have known it was originally sent by the EPA, thereby qualifying it as covert propaganda. Another message, in a blog post, linked to an advocacy group’s website that included a message urging readers to contact Congress about the rule.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

EPA Broke Law with Social Media Push for Water Rule, Auditor Finds (by Eric Lipton and Michael D. Shear, New York Times)

Audit: EPA Used “Covert Propaganda” in Water-Rule Campaign (by Jason Plautz, National Journal)

EPA—Application of Publicity or Propaganda and Anti-Lobbying Provisions (Government Accountability Office)

George W. Bush-Appointed Judge Halts Implementation of Rule Protecting Streams and Wetlands (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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