Facebook is jumping into the gun rights debate by creating new clear policies regarding the gun sales on their social media platform. The aim is reportedly to stop what people say are rampant illegal gun sales.
The company acknowledges that they are not a platform for selling guns, however the platform can be used to coordinate or organize illegal firearms sales on Facebook. And while the big concern seems to be gun sales, Facebook also doesn't permit advertising for illegal drugs, tobacco products, prescription pharmaceuticals, and several other products and service areas. They also restrict advertising for alcohol, adult products, and gaming.
"People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial," Monika Bickert, Facebook head of global policy managment, says in the company's blog post. "In some cases they promote these products for sale or use, even though it's not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram. While we've recently heard specific concerns from people about offers for the private sales of firearms, this is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals' desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere."
Users who see Facebook content that the company considers restricted can simply report the post. The content in question will be flagged as being restricted to users 18 and older, and the original poster will receive information to ensure their content complies with applicable laws and regulations.
"As always, we encourage people who see anything that violates our policies to report it to us using the tools found throughout our services," write Bickert. "Facebook and Instagram will continue to remove content, and notify law enforcement where appropriate, when we are notified about things shared on our services that suggest a direct, credible risk to others' safety. We will also continue to strictly enforce our advertising policies."
The change to the company's gun policy comes hot on the heels of a VentureBeat investigation where they discovered that anyone, including children and those without proper identification, could purchase a firearm through Facebook in just 15 minutes. These were back-alley-style transactions that were done without any kind of identity checks or restrictions, and they appeared to be quite common across multiple firearm-related pages on Facebook. These transactions are all illegal by U.S. law, and it is something that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is investigating.
There was also a Change.org petition started last month that garnered more than 95,000 signatures to force Facebook and Instagram to prohibit all gun sales. It also prompted comedian Sarah Silverman, a longtime anti-gun advocate, to tweet about it, although the tweet has since been deleted.
While Facebook is merely one place where illegal firearms sales could be facilitated, it would not be surprising to see other sites following suit now that Facebook has taken such a strong stance. eBay has long had a policy where firearms, weapons, and knives cannot be sold unless users meet strict requirements before doing so, but although firearms themselves cannot be listed, firearm accessories are fine.