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Gun Rights Groups' New Social Media Policy: Don't Use It

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The National Rifle Association has embraced a new, simple social media policy in the days following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: don't use it.

The NRA's Twitter account has been mute since early Friday morning, before the mass murder in Newtown, Conn. It has disabled comments on Google+ and YouTube updates, which stopped late last week. The official NRA Facebook account has not only stayed quiet, it has completely disappeared: The NRA apparently removed its Facebook page late Friday evening.

While Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites have otherwise buzzed with users' reactions to the Newtown shooting, followers of social media accounts belonging to six major gun rights advocacy groups -- that together spent $5.5 million in 2011 lobbying against stricter gun control -- would have been hard pressed to know from the groups' status updates and tweets that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Many of these groups have kept their posts on social media to a minimum.

As of Monday evening, three days after the shooting, the most recent tweet from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) -- a Newtown, Conn.-based group that seeks to "promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports" -- was a link to an audio guide on "refinishing a rifle or shotgun stock" posted on Dec. 14. The organization's last post to Facebook was a link to a blog about the potential opportunity to hunt on Native American lands.

Safari Club International, the "leader in protecting the freedom to hunt, worldwide," updated its Twitter and Facebook accounts on Monday morning -- but only to plug its upcoming convention for hunters. Gun Owners of America, which spent more than $1.3 million on gun rights lobbying in 2011, second only to the NRA among gun rights groups, didn't tweet until late Monday afternoon, three days after the shooting in Connecticut. On Saturday, it posted a link to its Facebook account on a story about renewed gun-control efforts in the aftermath of the shooting.

The NRA, NSSF, Safari Club International and Gun Owners of America did not respond to requests for comment.

Though the NRA in particular has faced criticism from social media users over what some deem its "cowardly" silence online, marketing consultant Peter Shankman said that keeping mum may be the groups' best and only option in the immediate aftermath of the school shooting, given their stance against gun control.

"I'm always the first person to say, ‘be proactive, get in front of the story,' but there's absolutely nothing you can say here," said Shankman, who has authored books advising companies on the use of social media and technology. "If you're the NRA, you're not worried about social media, you're putting all your resources on the huge, huge fight that you're going to have on your hands ... If I were advising them, I'd tell them to be quiet."

In Shankman's view, even a tweet or Facebook status from the NRA expressing its condolences for the families of the deceased might be inappropriate.

"It's hypocritical," Shankman said. "'Our prayers go out to families of the kids killed with tools we vigorously defend.'"

Dave Workman, communications director for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), maintains that many gun rights advocacy organizations have kept quiet in the aftermath of the elementary school massacre in part because they are awaiting more "conclusive information" about the killing spree.

"I think the firearms community has been waiting to get all the facts, though there have been some reactions," said Workman, who noted he had not closely tracked CCRKBA's own social media efforts. "But I don't think you're going to find a gun rights organization charging out of the barn with its longstanding agenda, like the gun control crowd as been doing."

Why not?

"Because first, it's probably not appropriate and it might be even a little bit ghoulish and we're waiting to find out more about this thing," Workman said.

The CCRKBA has been among the more active gun rights groups on social media. On Friday, it posted a message to its Facebook followers from its founder, Alan Gottlieb. It read in part: "You can not stop criminals and mad men with laws, you can only stop violence with the fear of armed victims." It also updated its Twitter account throughout the weekend with stories on gun control efforts ("#guncontrol bills are coming"), the danger of gun-free zones and a stabbing that injured 22 school children in China.

Despite the social media silence from the major gun rights groups, advocates of stricter gun control continue to use social media to voice their opinions, writing critical tweets as well as Facebook messages on pages belonging to groups like the NSSF.

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