Leaked Snapchat emails: Gun safety charity told to pay or NRA ads may appear on videos


Snapchat told a gun safety charity it might run NRA ads on the charity's anti-gun violence awareness campaign — which would have featured videos starring families who lost their loved ones to firearms — if the charity didn't pay Snapchat for advertising, emails provided to Mic by a source close to the exchange show.  

Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit backed by Michael Bloomberg and devoted to curbing gun violence and decreasing fatalities from firearms, reached out to Snapchat in early 2016 about advertising on the messaging service's massive platform for its #WearOrange event on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, a day of advocacy organized by the charity in conjunction with families who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

Rob Saliterman, Snapchat's head of political sales, responded with an advertising quote of at least $150,000 to allow Snapchat users to participate in the event using custom filters and lenses.

Unbeknown to Saliterman, Snapchat's news team had also reached out to Everytown about a partnership for National Gun Violence Awareness Day. In an email, Snapchat News said it was excited about the opportunity to spotlight Everytown's "nationwide movement to honor all lives cut short by gun violence," which featured participation from high-profile celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman, as well as Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Snapchat's editorial division offered to feature the star-studded event, for free, as a Live Story similar to the ones it has run around major events like Donald Trump's inauguration. It would have allowed users across the nation to see video stories of families who have lost their loved ones to gun violence, survivors of shootings and celebrities taking a stand for gun reform.

Because Snapchat's news team was interested in partnering with Everytown — and because that editorial content partnership would come at no cost — the nonprofit no longer had any need to pay for Snapchat's ad services.

In mid-May, shortly after Saliterman became aware that another arm of Snapchat was effectively undercutting him on a client he'd been working to secure, he sent an email to Everytown.

"I just learned our News Team is doing a Live Story on National Gun Violence Awareness Day," Saliterman's message began. "I would urgently like to speak with you about advertising opportunities within the story, as there will be three ad slots. We are also talking to the NRA about running ads within the story."

In other words, if the nonprofit partnered with Snapchat's editorial department instead of paying the six-figure fee to promote its event through Snapchat's advertising department, it ran the risk of having its gun safety message countered by the NRA, which strongly opposes the reform Everytown promotes.

Everytown responded via email, explaining it could not afford the advertising rate, but expressing concern about having its stories of lives lost to gun violence flanked by pro-gun advertising.

Saliterman explained that, as is standard of most media organizations, the editorial and advertising divisions of Snapchat operate independently of each other — a firewall that appears to have contributed in this case to one department's effective sabotaging of another. He also again brought up the possibility that the NRA, which advertised with Snapchat during a presidential debate in 2015, would advertise on the package.

"That's really unfortunate news on your budget, as Snapchat reaches 41% of 18-34 year olds in the U.S. on a daily basis and I don't believe there's a more efficient way to reach that audience," Saliterman said in his final email to the charity. "To be clear, the story has the potential to be bought by any advertiser, including the NRA, which will enable the advertiser to run three 10-sec video ads within the story. This is analogous to how any advertiser could buy advertising in a TV news program about violence. The advertising will not impact the editorial content within the story as our teams are independent."

Though Saliterman argued any anti-gun reform lobbyist's advertising would not impact the pro-gun reform charity's campaign, the two diametrically opposed groups have an openly antagonistic relationship. A significant portion of Everytown's social media presence is devoted to spotlighting the NRA's role, the organization argues, in killing gun reform bills and promoting laws that put more guns in the hands of more people.

On May 30, 2015, the NRA issued a statement in its magazine calling the nonprofit's day of advocacy "pointless," further underscoring the tension between the two organizations.

Ultimately, Everytown refused both Snapchat's free editorial partnership and paid advertising services. Snapchat went on to run a Live Story entitled "Guns in America" later that month without Everytown's participation at the partner level.

Snapchat declined to comment on this story. Everytown for Gun Safety did not respond to Mic's multiple requests for comment. 

March 1, 2017, 6:16 p.m.: This story has been updated.