NPS account ordered dark after tweets offend Trump admin

By Emily Yehle | 01/23/2017 01:42 PM EST

The National Park Service sports the usual disclaimer on its Twitter account, signaling that retweets are not endorsements.

The National Park Service sports the usual disclaimer on its Twitter account, signaling that retweets are not endorsements.

But it took only two retweets for the agency to cross President Trump. The Interior Department suspended all its Twitter activity for about 12 hours Friday and Saturday — an unprecedented move — in response to NPS sharing tweets about the inauguration turnout and the White House website.

The question now among employees: What’s next?


"I think they’re scared. I think they’re really threatened," a former Interior official said of the department’s employees. "I think they’ve seen a very combative administration come into effect that has no tolerance for dissent."

Twitter screenshot
The Trump administration ordered the National Park Service to stop its social media efforts after it retweeted a New York Times reporter showing smaller crowds for Trump’s inauguration compared to President Obama’s in 2009.

It’s still unclear who is responsible for the retweets. Several employees have access to the NPS Twitter account, and until now, Interior’s approach to social media has been flexible. Each agency sets its own guidelines and is largely left alone, according to several former Interior employees.

One of the two offending retweets went viral: a photo, first shared by New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, comparing the crowds at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration to Trump’s Friday inauguration. Some Twitter users wondered whether NPS "went rogue," as Trump made a point of denying the fact that fewer people showed up to his event.

Former officials say the crowd tweet would likely have been considered innocuous in the past. The second retweet — a tweet from Twitter user Anne Trumble noting the absence of civil rights, climate change and health care on the new White House website — was probably "poor judgment," one former official said.

In the past, that might have sparked a conversation among the communications team. But on Friday, Interior sent out a directive to stop tweeting. A career NPS employee alerted colleagues on social media that "the new administration has said that the Department and all Bureaus are not supposed to tweet this weekend and wait for guidance until Monday."

Interior actually reactivated its accounts Saturday morning.

NPS tweeted on Saturday, "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."

NPS spokesman Thomas Crosson said that the suspension was for less than 24 hours and that parks were allowed to tweet out emergency information, such as road closures and weather advisories.

The two retweets "were inconsistent with the agency’s approach to engaging the public through social media," Interior said in a statement.

"Out of an abundance of caution, while we investigated the situation involving these tweets, the Department’s communications team determined that it was important to stand down Twitter activity across the Department temporarily, except in the case of public safety," spokeswoman Leah Duran said in an email.

Interior’s bureaus now have one new rule: no posts on the "policy priorities" of the incoming Interior secretary until Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) is confirmed by the Senate for the position.

One former Interior official worried that the brush-up could prompt NPS to craft a new social media policy that requires a political appointee to approve all tweets. That would be "a 180," the official said.

"There are already a few digital folks who have said this put them over the edge and they are going to start looking for new work," the official said. "They can’t stomach working for the new regime."