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PeerJ: The Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences


The inauguration of President Trump in the United States led to the active restriction of science communication from federal agencies, resulting in the creation of many unofficial “alt” Twitter accounts to maintain communication. Alt accounts had many followers (e.g., 15 accounts had > 100,000) and received a large amount of media attention, making them ideal for better understanding how differences in messaging can affect public engagement with science on microblogging platforms. We analyzed tweets produced by alt and corresponding official agency accounts to compare the two groups and determine if specific features of a tweet made them more likely to be retweeted or liked to help the average scientist potentially reach a broader audience on Twitter. We found adding links, images, hashtags, and mentions, as well as expressing angry and annoying sentiments all increased retweets and likes. Evidence-based terms such as “peer-review” had high retweet rates but linking directly to peer-reviewed publications decreased attention compared to popular science websites. Word choice and attention did not reflect official or alt account types, indicating topic is more important than source. The number of tweets generated and attention received by alt accounts has decreased since their creation, demonstrating the importance of timeliness in science communication on social media. Together our results show potential pathways for scientists to increase efficacy in Twitter communications.