Facebook and Instagram reacted swiftly to appeals last week by advocacy groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, announcing new educational and enforcement measures regarding discussions on the social networks about commercial activity, particularly when it involves regulated items, such as guns.
Facebook and Instagram have stated that they are social networks, not ecommerce platforms, but an online petition started by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America Founder and Indiana-based mother Shannon Watts last month reads:
Facebook and Instagram are currently being used to facilitate sales and trades of firearms between private sellers. Most of these sales and trades can take place without background checks, meaning that there’s no way to stop a Facebook or Instagram user from potentially selling a gun to a felon, a domestic abuser, or another dangerous person who would otherwise be prohibited from obtaining a gun. I think of Facebook and Instagram as places to share photos of my kids and family — not as an online market for guns.
Facebook Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert emphasized in a Newsroom post that advertising of products such as illegal drugs, tobacco products, prescription pharmaceuticals, and weapons is prohibited on the social network, and advertising is restricted for other products, such as adult merchandise and gaming, adding:
Of course, most of our tools are free to use, and many people and organizations use them to establish a presence on Facebook, including to promote commercial transactions. While people can’t use our services to actually sell things to each other, they can set up a page or make an occasional post to their Timeline to find a roommate, sell a home, or solicit contributions for a church or nonprofit organization. Just like posting on a bulletin board at a supermarket or community center, these activities may be considered commercial, but we treat this type of sharing like any other type of sharing on our services — and we respond to reports when something violates our community standards.
She also outlined the measures being introduced by Facebook and Instagram:
Today, we are introducing a series of new educational and enforcement efforts for people discussing the private sale of regulated items:
Any time we receive a report on Facebook about a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item, we will send a message to that person reminding him or her to comply with relevant laws and regulations. We will also limit access to that post to people over the age of 18.
We will require pages that are primarily used by people to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services to include language that clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations, and limit access to people over the age of 18 or older if required by applicable law.
We will provide special in-application education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.
We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to specify “no background check required,” nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer. We have worked with a number of individuals and organizations on the development of these efforts, which will be implemented and enforced in the coming weeks. We are grateful in particular for the advice offered by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action, which helped us develop an approach for the private sale of firearms. We also appreciate the feedback provided by the Facebook Safety Advisory Board.
As always, we encourage people who see anything that violates our policies to report it to us using the tools found throughout our services. 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.
UPDATED: Some activists, however, felt that Facebook and Instagram did not do enough. Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence President Daniel Gross said in an email to AllFacebook:
This new policy is not a victory because Facebook continues to makes it too easy for dangerous people to evade a background check when buying guns. A mere warning to follow the law and community-based reporting will not do enough to prevent unchecked gun sales to dangerous people. As we and thousands of others have told Facebook, unlicensed gun sales have no place on the social network. Facebook should prohibit all posts that advertise the unlicensed sale or transfer of firearms in the U.S. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before a gun purchased through Facebook without a background check is used in a terrible tragedy.
And Heidi Yewman, spokesperson for the Million Mom March Chapters and the Brady Campaign, added:
Facebook and Instagram are great platforms to share opinions, memories, and photos, but they shouldn’t be providing opportunities for criminals to evade background checks and get guns. As a parent, I’m disappointed that an industry leader like Facebook is way behind on such an important issue involving the safety and security of us all. I stand with moms across the country and ask that Facebook and Instagram join Craigslist, Google, and eBay and prohibit unlicensed gun sales.
Readers: What did you think of the response by Facebook and Instagram?
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