Investigation Reveals Facebook and Google Profit from NRA Advertising Spikes After Mass Shootings
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 15, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a new study revealing the National Rifle Association (NRA) dramatically increases its online advertising on Facebook and Google in the weeks following mass shootings. The report details how these ad buys profit the major tech companies, despite public comments from their executives calling for gun control measures the NRA has sought to block. The report comes at a time when the NRA has used the coronavirus pandemic to promote gun sales.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “In the wake of these horrendous mass shootings, platforms like Facebook and Google cash checks from the NRA while their executives criticize the group’s policy goals. After major mass shootings, the NRA retreats from public view, but continues to push its agenda through targeted advertising on tech platforms. The public should be alarmed that tech companies are helping the NRA advance its agenda in Washington.”
TTP’s investigation found that, while the NRA is usually silent in terms of public commentary in the days following a major mass shooting, its online ad spending later skyrockets, capitalizing on the fears of gun owners that the most recent tragedy will precipitate gun control legislation. For instance, in August 2019, following mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the NRA launched online ads attacking then-presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke for his strong stance against AR-15 ownership. Following an Odessa, Texas, shooting later that month, NRA spending on Google political ads hit a high of over $69,000 in one week.
After the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a public post, “It’s hard to imagine why we don’t make it much harder for anyone to do this.” The next year, after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said the U.S. is the “only country in the world that allows our children to live in fear and die because of the truly terrible public policy on guns.” She even participated in a student walkout. TTP found, however, that Facebook received nearly $2.2 million in the last two years from the NRA alone.
Google similarly profits in the wake of mass shootings. Following the Parkland massacre, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt called upon U.S. leaders to pass gun control measures. Meanwhile, Google collected more than $690,000 in advertising fees from the NRA since May 2018, the earliest point for which the company’s political ad data is available. When Schmidt was asked about the potential for artificial intelligence to reduce gun violence, he called instead for “increasing the intelligence of the leaders who should vote for some gun controls.”
Recently, TTP has found NRA ads seeking to use the current coronavirus pandemic to push its agenda on Facebook. The group has attacked lawmakers who refuse to declare gun stores “essential businesses” during the lockdown. One NRA ad promoted the idea that guns will become necessary because “the government will not be able to protect us” if society breaks down. As the NRA has stoked panic over the mounting public health crisis, gun sales have surged, and major tech platforms are helping stoke this fear.
Mr. Stevens continued, “Tech company executives pretend to care about gun control policy, yet their platforms help the NRA advance its agenda. The truth is tech billionaires only care about their bottom lines and aren’t interested in using their platforms to implement real changes to benefit the public.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.