The National Rifle Association normally maintains an active presence on social networks, but has all but gone dark since Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The most prominent example of the NRA’s sudden withdrawal from social media was seen when the organization hid its official Facebook page, as TechCrunch reported Sunday.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TPM that Facebook took no action regarding the organization’s page. However, owners of Facebook Pages can “unpublish” the accounts from public listing on the website at any time, as Facebook’s terms explain.
The Thursday before the massacre, @NRA, the NRA’s official Twitter account tweeted: “Did you hear? Our #facebook page reached 1.7 million “likes” today! Thanks for being a friend!,” along with a link to a graphic celebrating the milestone.
Another official NRA account, @NRACountry, was scheduled to host a Twitter chat with country music star Colt Ford on Friday, but canceled the event Thursday afternoon, tweeting: “Apologies for the inconvenience, but the @ColtFord Tweet & Greet will be rescheduled. Please check back for more info!” as The New York Observer reported. However, that tweet was deleted by Saturday and the account has not tweeted since. Nor has the NRA’s official news account on Twitter, @NRANews, since Thursday.
The NRA’s main Twitter account has published over 3,000 tweets since it first began in 2009. It has had several posts a week or day in recent months. It, too, abruptly stopped publishing updates once the full extent of the shooting spree became clear. Its last tweet before news of the massacre broke was a holiday giveaway promotion early Friday.
The shooter killed 20 children and six adults at the school before killing himself, all reportedly using weapons purchased legally by his mother. He also reportedly shot his mother to death before going to the school.
TPM reached out to the NRA for official comment on the abrupt halt of new posts on its still-active social network accounts, as well as the removal of the Facebook page, and will update when we receive any information.
When asked for statements following previous mass shooting incidents, the NRA has typically rolled out a variation of the same response decrying the politicization of the tragedy and asking for prayers of the victims’ families, as Slate reported Monday.
But other leading gun rights supporters online have theories as to why the NRA, normally prolific on social media, has taken a break in the days following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The [NRA is] behind closed doors, with supporters at whatever level, to try and find out where people are standing and what’s going to happen,” John Pierce, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, self-described as a “social networking portal for the gun rights movement,” told TPM. Pierce added: “The other reason that the NRA isn’t talking a great deal is out of respect for the families who lost loved ones. You know, historically, gun rights groups have tried to give a proper period of mourning before engaging in political debate. … I believe that behind the scenes the NRA is probably girdling their loins for a political struggle. “
Also, despite the pause of official communications from the NRA online, there is one related communications arm that’s still working: Those of its sponsor organizations, including some insurance companies, which have continued to send out pre-scheduled emails to select demographics on NRA email lists.
“We actually sent one [NRA sponsor email] out about five hours ago,” Brett Vernon, owner of Web Marketing And Design, told TPM on Monday afternoon. A boutique digital marketing agency in Santa Barbara, Calif., the company manages some email campaigns for NRA sponsors. “It’s not the NRA official word, but it’s a message from an NRA sponsor, which is NRA endorsed.”
Vernon declined to specify the name of the sponsor or any others that he worked with, citing business non-disclosure agreements, but said the email sent out Monday “has nothing to do with NRA’s opinion or anything. It just says, ‘Hey, Happy Holidays,’ and offers a promotion. It was obviously written last week, before this [shooting] incident.”
Vernon noted that although the email was written and scheduled to be sent out before the tragedy, sponsoring organizations can reach out to his firm and cancel emails right up until the time they’re sent out.
It remains to seen when the NRA will resume its official online communications. But with gun control advocates using social media to reprimand the NRA’s stances, particularly its opposition to gun ownership restrictions, the group’s avoidance of social media is allowing its opponents to dominate the conversation about gun politics online.
With reporting by Evan McMorris-Santoro.