The terrible anguish of Sandy Hook Elementary parents and families is something I feel at a visceral level. I am not alone. The social webs are trying to make sense of a senseless massacre evidenced by email blasts to sign petitions to improve school safety, countless Facebook postings of prayer, and an endless stream of #SandyHook and #Newtown comments and retweets on Twitter. Social media plays a cathartic role for a nation in grief, shock, and pain.
I am not going to judge the 2004 decision to lift the ban on the sale of assault weapons. It is not my intent to create any kind of rhetoric about 2nd Amendment rights. My purpose is to point out a fact and the repercussions. The fact is that the National Rifle Association shut down its Facebook page and silenced three Twitter accounts on Friday, December 14, 2012. The ramification of this action by the NRA is that they have made themselves irrelevant by exiting the public conversation.
The clear and present threat of easy access to assault weapons is being considered by legislators once cozy with the powerful NRA lobby. Senator Joe Manchin (WV-D) said this morning that “everything should be on the table.” Former Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough announced his change in position after the tragedy at Sandy Hook with this:
I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. Our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.
Josh Constine of TechCrunch makes the point that quitting social media was a wise move for the NRA. He points out that it prevents social media fans from posting offensive content under the NRA logo, that it keeps the NRA brand safe from being perceived as an extremist organization, and that other brands and organizations might try the same tactic in crisis. I question this choice on professional and ethical grounds.
Marketing students, like me, are taught many rules for using social media. The number one thing we should never do is end contact with our constituencies in times of crisis. The support the NRA has given to promote legal sales of assault weapons should be answered in the public forum. The NRA has weakened their formidable lobbying power by hiding when they should be present and shutting down communications when they should be listening. Social media plays a cathartic role for a nation in grief, shock, and pain. The NRA has lost all credibility by ignoring the suffering and misery that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. A simple Tweet, like “It was never the intention of our support to lift the ban on assault weapons that such a tragedy should befall our children. The NRA will support local law enforcement and families of Newtown with a donation, etc.” might have prevented the PR crisis the organization faces. There would certainly be detractors, but at least the organization would have tried something.
When you leave the table of social media you are no longer in the conversation. Do you trust an organization or a brand that tunes you out when you have an opinion? How do you feel about the NRA’s choice?