Over three days, the issue of gun control dominated Twitter, unprecedented in terms of numbers of people and the length of time. The network is no stranger to political topics, but the outpouring of tweets following last week's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school differed from those after previous shootings, such as last summer's attack in a Colorado movie theater.
A new report from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that gun control tweets held steady at close to 30 percent of all U.S. tweets over a three-day period, from the afternoon of the Dec. 14 massacre through noon on Monday, Dec. 17.
Never before had gun control so dominated the conversation on Twitter. For instance, after the shooting outside a Tucson, Ariz., mall in January 2011 that seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, tweets about gun laws represented only 3 percent of Twitter chatter in the U.S., according to Pew.
And unlike social media debates of the past, this one was decidedly in favor of stricter gun control laws.
On Twitter, the gap was 3-to-1: Sixty-four percent of the tweets called for reform, versus 21 percent that defended gun rights and 14 percent that was neutral, Pew said. "Don't pray, change your looney gun laws," tweeted @Neiley83, whose view was shared by many on Twitter.
Tweets counted as defending gun rights tended to make the point that more laws would not solve the problem. "You really think a gun regulation bill is going to stop criminals? Hate to break it to you, but they're not afraid of breaking the law," tweeted @NicoletFinger.
Pew also found that gun control tweets outpaced tweets of sympathy and prayers by about 3 percent. No other aspect of the event — from President Barack Obama's public speeches to mental health issues to the assessment of the media's performance in covering the story — amounted to more than 8 percent. [See also: How to Avoid Connecticut Shooting Charity Scams. ]
The gun lobbyists and their supporters remained silent. As a matter of policy, the NRA stopped tweeting as soon as the news of the shooting broke and did not resume until Tuesday of this week.
"Out of respect for the families , and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting," the NRA said in a statement.