The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Interior Department reactivates Twitter accounts after shutdown following inauguration

Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, right, appeared to draw a smaller crowd than Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, left. (Reuters)

The Interior Department reactivated its official Twitter accounts early Saturday after an abrupt shutdown following shares of two tweets during the inauguration the agency considered unsympathetic to President Trump.

National Park Service spokesman Thomas Crosson, whose agency   retweeted the offending tweets, apologized on Twitter for the “mistaken RT’s from our account,” referring to retweets.

In an email, Crosson said the shares were “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 can go up on the policy priorities of the new Interior secretary, because Trump nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) has not yet been confirmed.

It’s safe to assume that the Park Service won’t be estimating the crowd size of Saturday’s Women’s March on Twitter.

The reinstatement capped a frantic day of tweets, retweets and internal memos to contain the damage after an employee in the social media division apparently risked embarrassing the new administration.

But the incident made the Park Service a hero to some Americans who don’t like Trump. “The National Park Service’s Twitter Has Gone Rogue” someone tweeted Saturday. Others defended the agency for telling the public the truth.

The first share was of a tweet noting the new president’s relatively small inaugural crowd compared with the number of people Barack Obama drew to the Mall when he was sworn into office in 2009. The second missive was about several omissions of policy areas on the new White House website.

“All bureaus and the department have been directed by incoming administration to shut down Twitter platforms immediately until further notice,” said an email circulated to thousands of Interior employees.

From Obama to Trump: How the inaugurations looked in 2009 and 2017

The email, obtained by The Washington Post, described the stand-down as an “urgent directive” and said social media managers must shut down the accounts “until further directed.”

Interior has dozens of official Twitter accounts at its multiple offices and 10 bureaus, which include the Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey.

The shared crowd tweet from New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) pictured the mass of attendees at Obama’s inauguration next to Friday’s gathering on the Mall.

“Compare the crowds: 2009 inauguration at left, 2017 inauguration at right,” Appelbaum wrote. The second tweet came from another Twitter user. Anne Trumble, who noted that the Trump administration removed climate change, civil rights and health-care issues from the Obama White House website.

A government official familiar with the stand-down said the agency needed to investigate whether the retweets were purposeful, “errant” or “whether we’ve been hacked.”

The Park Service tweeting ban was first reported by

A retweet is a sharing of another person’s tweet. Seen straightforwardly, it’s a way to share an interesting piece of information. In the government’s case, the agency doing the retweeting must disseminate information that’s endorsed by the administration. And the policy includes not disparaging the president.

Crosson declined to say whether the Park Service employee had been identified. But the offending shares from @NatlParkService were removed from the agency’s Twitter feed.

Crosson said that it is against Park Service policy to estimate the size of crowds at events, because the estimates often  are inaccurate.

“Due to the difficulty in accurately assessing crowd estimates for large events, most notably following 1995’s Million Man March, the National Park Service no longer makes it a practice to provide crowd estimates for permitted events,” he said in an email.

“While we make internal estimates for staffing, security and emergency response purposes, it is left to the discretion of event organizers to make a determination of the event attendance.”

Janell Ross contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the press at a briefing Saturday that crowd sizes at the inaugural were bigger than initially reported. (Video: The Washington Post)