On 20 January 2017, the day Donald J. Trump took office as President of the United States, news outlets posted photos purporting to compare the size of the crowd attending Trump’s inauguration to that attending Barack Obama’s first inaugural ceremony in 2009. Although there was not yet an official count of how many people actually showed up at the Trump event, so an accurate numerical comparison couldn’t be made, the photos did appear to show a significant disparity between the sizes of the crowds, with far fewer in attendance at Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s.
For obvious reasons, the side-by-side images were relished by anti-Trump factions, who shared and retweeted them all day long.
There was one instance in particular wherein a retweet of the photos caught the attention of incoming Trump officials, who deemed them inappropriate — so inappropriate, in fact, that the Department of Interior promptly deactivated every one of its Twitter accounts in response.
The offending retweet (since deleted) appeared on the National Park Service (@NatlParkService) Twitter feed:
This was followed by another retweet (since deleted) of a text suggesting that the Trump administration had scrubbed information from the White House web site for ideological reasons:
All of which caused a small uproar on Twitter, where some users joked that the National Park Service had “gone rogue,” others wondered about the legality of the retweets, and still others defended their content as “factual, not anti-Trump.” Later that day, the NPS Twitter account, along with all the other Department of Interior accounts, went silent. According to a report by CNN, the order came down from a “career staffer” at the department:
After the retweet began to get attention, a career staffer at the Interior Department instructed employees that the “new administration has said that the department and all bureau are not supposed to tweet this weekend and wait for guidance until Monday.”The message continued, “Please make sure that any scheduled tweets are no longer scheduled.”
In statements to The Washington Post, a National Park Service spokesperson explained why the action was taken and said it would only be temporary:
Thomas Crosson, a spokesman for the National Park Service, the Interior agency whose employee retweeted the offending tweets, said the action was “inconsistent with the agency’s approach to engaging the public through social media.”
“The Department of Interior’s communications team determined that it was important to stand down Twitter activity across the Department temporarily, except in the case of public safety,” Crosson said in an email.
“Now that social media guidance has been clarified, the Department and its bureaus should resume Twitter engagement as normal this weekend.” With one exception, Crosson said: No social media posts on the policy priorities of the new Interior secretary, because Trump nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) has not yet been confirmed.
Indeed, by the next morning, U.S. Department of Interior Twitter accounts went online again, commencing with a note of contrition tweeted by @NatlParkService:
We regret the mistaken RTs from our account yesterday and look forward to continuing to share the beauty and history of our parks with you pic.twitter.com/mctNNvlrmv
— NationalParkService (@NatlParkService) January 21, 2017
There has been no announcement regarding who may have been responsible for the retweets, or whether disciplinary action would be taken.
Klein, Betsy. “Comparing Donald Trump and Barack Obama’s Inaugural Crowd Sizes.”
CNN. 21 January 2017.
Merica, Dan. “Trump Admin Tells National Park Service to Halt Tweets.”
CNN. 20 January 2017.
Rein, Lisa. “Interior Department Reactivates Twitter Accounts Ffter Shutdown Following Inauguration.”
The Washington Post. 21 January 2017.