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Facebook changes gun policies to crack down on illegal sales

Caitlin McGarry | March 6, 2014
Users can still promote firearm sales, but there are a slew of new hoops to jump through.

facebook guns

Facebook doesn't really want to police black market gun sales happening through its site, so the company is putting some measures in place to crack down on illegal activity.

The network has struggled to find a balance between free speech and preventing illegal gun sales, Facebook head of global policy management Monika Bickert said in a Wednesday blog post. It doesn't want to prevent people from posting about items for sale, but the network will send reminder messages to users promoting the sale of regulated items like firearms. Users under the age of 18 won't be able to see posts about guns for sale.

Bickert also said the crackdown will extend to Instagram, where Facebook will offer up information about location-specific gun laws when users search for gun-related hashtags.

While Facebook and Instagram don't actually process transactions, plenty of people use the networks to arrange to buy and sell items offline. There are a slew of gun-related fan pages where individuals arrange private transactions, which are legal, but those sales can very easily sidestep the law. A VentureBeat investigation last month found that buying a gun on Facebook takes as little as 15 minutes and no ID. Cases of minors stopped for gun possession and admitting to buying the guns from Facebook users have become more common than they should.

Advocacy groups like Moms Demand Action, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Sandy Hook Promise, and Americans for Responsible Solutions have campaigned for the Facebook crackdown and worked with the network to craft a policy on gun sales. Moms Demand Action launched a campaign in January to convince Facebook and Instagram to step up their efforts to stop illegal firearm sales. A petition gathered more than 225,000 signatures. The group also produced this video as part of the campaign.

Facebook's new policies, while they go further than before, probably won't satisfy everyone. Users can still post about guns for sale and trade information to move sales offline. But Facebook plans to keep a close eye on users that try to skirt gun laws. If you notice a user promising not to background check potential buyers, you can report the user and Facebook will delete those posts. Same goes for users trying to sell weapons across state lines, which is illegal.

The network's new moves might just serve to push gun sales to Facebook's back channels--it can't really police what goes on in Messenger, for instance. But by making it more difficult for underage users to see posts about guns for sale, Facebook and Instagram might make schools and homes a little bit safer for kids.


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