Facebook Cracks Down on Gun Sales

The social-media giant is stepping in to prevent illegal firearm transactions from being facilitated on its websites.

Web-King: The succession race is on.
National Journal
Laura Ryan
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Laura Ryan
March 5, 2014, 11:46 a.m.

Face­book on Wed­nes­day an­nounced ef­forts to bol­ster “edu­ca­tion and en­force­ment” for gun sellers us­ing its so­cial-me­dia web­sites, a re­sponse to grow­ing con­cerns that it has be­come a mar­ket­place where gun sellers and buy­ers can cir­cum­vent gun laws.

Face­book is not an e-com­merce site, and dir­ect fin­an­cial trans­ac­tions do not take place through its net­work, but it does provide an av­en­ue for users to ad­vert­ise fire­arm sales. Gun-con­trol ad­vocacy groups say the so­cial-me­dia sites, with over 1 bil­lion users, have made it easi­er to con­nect people who wish to buy and sell fire­arms without com­ply­ing with fed­er­al laws and have been push­ing the com­pany to ad­dress the is­sue.

For ex­ample, an in­vest­ig­a­tion by Ven­ture­Beat re­vealed that it takes 15 minutes for chil­dren or people without IDs to pur­chase a weapon on a Face­book page.

The new policy will de­lete posts that pro­mote il­leg­al sales, lim­it minors’ ac­cess to gun pages, and re­quire sellers to in­clude lan­guage about gun laws. The com­pany will also send a re­mind­er to any­one privately ad­vert­ising a gun sale — or any reg­u­lated sub­stance for that mat­ter — to fol­low the law.

“We will not per­mit people to post of­fers to sell reg­u­lated items that in­dic­ate a will­ing­ness to evade or help oth­ers evade the law,” Monika Bick­ert, Face­book’s head of glob­al policy man­age­ment, said in a state­ment.

Face­book will rely on com­munity tips to mon­it­or gun posts, rather than em­ploy­ing an in-house team to po­lice posts. In­s­tagram will send out auto­mat­ic no­tices to users search­ing hasht­ags such as #gun­sfor­sale.

Sen. Ed­ward Mar­key of Mas­sachu­setts, who pressed In­s­tagram on the is­sue last Novem­ber, lauded the ac­tion, say­ing “In­s­tagram should be for selfies, not semi-auto­mat­ics.”

The Pa­lo Alto, Cal­if.-based com­pany has been craft­ing the policy over the last year with the help of New York At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Schnei­der­m­an and the gun-safety groups Amer­ic­ans for Re­spons­ible Solu­tions, May­ors Against Il­leg­al Guns, Sandy Hook Prom­ise, and Moms De­mand Ac­tion.

In rolling out the new policy, Face­book em­phas­ized that it was not try­ing to step on its users’ free ex­pres­sion.

“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,” Bick­ert said.

The Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation down­played the an­nounce­ment, say­ing that May­ors Against Il­leg­al Guns was try­ing to get Face­book to shut down dis­cus­sion of the Second Amend­ment but had been un­able to do so.

But gun-con­trol ad­voc­ates call it a vic­tory. John Fein­blatt, chair­man of May­ors Against Il­leg­al Guns, said the move will send an im­port­ant “cul­tur­al mes­sage” to le­gis­lat­ors at the fed­er­al and state level. Schnei­der­m­an ex­pressed con­fid­ence dur­ing a press call Wed­nes­day that oth­er com­pan­ies will fol­low Face­book’s ex­ample.

What We're Following See More »
McMaster Retiring This Summer
1 hours ago
After Saudi Visit, Massive Arms Sale Approved
3 hours ago
House Committee Calls Mark Zuckerberg To Testify
6 hours ago

"The House Energy and Commerce Committee will summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify, following recent revelations that Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained information on some 50 million Facebook users. 'We believe, as CEO of Facebook, he is the right witness to provide answers to the American people,'" said Reps. Greg Walden and Frank Pallone. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg told CNN that he was open to testifying. "The House panel said it plans to send a formal letter to Facebook in the days ahead."

Tillerson Receives Applause for Farewell Remarks
6 hours ago
House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill
6 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.