Facebook has come under fire recently for enabling users to buy and sell firearms illegally. Now, the company has announced some new efforts to try and crack down on it.
Will Facebook's efforts make a difference? Do they go far enough? Too far? Let us know what you think.
Last week, VentureBeat reported on an investigation, finding that it took only fifteen minutes to buy an illegal weapon on Facebook. Here's an excerpt:
On Tuesday, a VentureBeat reporter and his colleague spent less than 15 minutes arranging to buy a semiautomatic 7mm rifle and 90 rounds of ammunition from a guy named “Dave,” a member of Facebook “Firearms Only Alamogordo” fan page (left).
VentureBeat made contact through the fan page, and in the ensuing SMS chat, Dave expressed an eagerness to do the deal. The gun was in good condition, he explained.
When a VentureBeat reporter asked Dave if they needed to bring identification to complete the sale, his response was an immediate “no.”
Earlier in February, Moms Demand Action put out a "look back" video-like look at gun sales on Facebook that got the company some negative attention on the matter.
"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," says Facebook head of global policy management Monika Bickert. "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."
"People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial," she adds. "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."
It should be noted that Facebook already has a system in place for keeping weapons out of Facebook ads.
New efforts include: anytime Facebook gets a report about a post promoting the private sale of a "commonly regulated item" it will send a message to the person reminding them to comply with relevant laws and regulations; Facebook will limit access to that post to people over the age of 18; Facebook will require Pages primarily used to promote the private sale of commonly regulated items to include language reminding people of relevant laws/regulations, and once again limit access to people over 18 if required by law; Facebook will provide in-app education on Instagram for those searching for firearms sales and promotions.
"We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law," says Bickert. "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."
Facebook has worked with a number of organizations and individuals including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action to come up with its new efforts, which will take effect in the coming weeks.
Last year, Facebook made gun-related headlines when it shut down a Pennsylvania gun store's AR-15 giveaway promotion without warning.
Groupon has also been at the center of gun controversy. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, the company put a stop to deals featuring gun-related offers (including shooting ranges, conceal-and-carry and clay shooting), but later began offering them again.
Facebook's new efforts are already drawing negative reactions from gun rights advocates.
H. Craig Bradley writes in the comments of a Wall Street Journal story, "It's not Facebook’s role to interfere in free speech on the internet. Offering to sell guns across state lines is already regulated and policed by the Federal Government ( Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). It's illegal...."
Others have offered similar thoughts.
We have seen people get arrested after posting gun pics on the social network. Last summer, for example, 28-year-old Alain Ramirez of Miami was arrested after posting pics of himself with a gun on Facebook, after a burglary conviction which was supposed to keep away from guns. Police simply checked his Facebook page after receiving a tip, and found the incriminating photos.
But for those who would like purchasing illegal firearms on Facebook to not be so easy (again, VentureBeat did it in fifteen minutes), the new changes are welcome.
Moms Demand Action said in a statement, "These are real, common-sense policies — and they’re going to make Facebook safer for all users."
Founder Shannon Watts said:
American moms are gratified that Facebook and Instagram have agreed to take meaningful steps to prevent illegal gun sales to children and dangerous people on its platforms.
Our campaign showed how easy it is for minors, felons and other dangerous people to get guns online – that’s why moms and more than 230,000 Americans signed our petition, tweeted and used social media to ask Facebook and Instagram to do something about gun sales facilitated on their networks. We are happy that these companies listened to American mothers and we believe these changes are a major step toward making sure people who buy or sell guns on their platforms know the law, and follow it. Moms are particularly pleased that Facebook will block minors from seeing posts about gun sales or trades, and that we can be confident that these social networks will be safe spaces for our kids.
There’s still so much to be done – by corporations, by Congress, and by local leaders – to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Moms have momentum and we’re moving the country toward a culture of gun safety one company, one legislator, one law at a time. We’re going to keep applying pressure to corporations and political leaders until they do more to reduce the gun violence that plagues our country. We’re not going away, and we will not stop until we’ve done everything we can to keep our children and communities safe.
What do you think of Facebook's new efforts? Let us know in the comments.
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