The newly installed administration of President Donald Trump has occupied its first several days with the question of whether or not Mr. Trump’s inauguration drew a larger crowd than that of former President Barack Obama in 2009. Now, the National Park Service has become swept up in the new administration’s response to accusations of low turnout owing to its retweeting of social media posts on the matter. As of January 21st, the service was instructed to cease all twitter activities until further notice.
The now-deleted retweets centered around a side-by-side image which showed aerial views of the National Mall during both the 2009 and 2017 inauguration ceremonies, with the 2017 image conspicuously showing fewer people in attendance. Though retweeting a post has traditionally not been viewed as an endorsement of its content, the Trump administration, already deeply involved in the debate over attendance, was quick to censor the National Park Service’s use of Twitter. In an internal letter, all bureaus of the Department of the Interior were immediately directed to stop using Twitter for communication purposes. The original tweets were also removed from the National Park Service’s page.
As a result of this directive, the National Park Service is expected to switch its direct communication channels to other social media platforms, as the directive only specified a cessation of Twitter use and made it clear that other forms of social media, such as Facebook, were still approved. The letter also stated that it was not necessary for the department’s bureaus to delete their Twitter profiles, unless future instructions to that effect were conveyed. Posts that had previously been scheduled for publication were, however, ordered to be removed.
Though there was no direct mention made in the letter to the retweet relating to the size of the inaugural crowd, the Trump administration is widely believed to have issued the order in direct response to them. The censoring of the National Park Service, however, was only one part of a broader pattern of obsession in the White House over how many people attended Friday’s swearing-in ceremony.
Throughout the weekend, representatives of the incoming administration attempted to defend the new president’s attendance numbers. These debates over the size of the crowd also led to the public claim by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that the audience was, in fact, the largest in presidential history. During an interview not long after, Mr. Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway suggested that Mr. Spicer was producing “alternative facts,” a phrase which led to nationwide criticism of Conway and of the Trump administration in general.