Facebook, Instagram crack down on illegal gun sales

6 Mar 2014

Image via Dino Osmic/Shutterstock

In what it terms ‘new educational and enforcement efforts’, Facebook has introduced new policies for the social network and photo-sharing app Instagram that will inhibit the use of these services for the illegal sale of firearms.

Facebook announced these restrictions – which apply to users discussing the private sale of all regulated items – in a blog post published Wednesday by Monica Bickert, head of global policy management.

Bickert acknowledged that the social network can sometimes be used to share things that “may be controversial or objectionable”, but that the company strives to strike a balance between enabling free expression and ensuring a safe and respectful environment.

Prompted by concerns of gun control advocates

However, the fact that a VentureBeat reporter took less than 15 minutes to arrange the purchase of a semiautomatic 7mm rifle and 90 rounds of ammunition through a Facebook page, with no ID required to complete the deal, has highlighted how easily social media can be used to facilitate the illegal gun trade.

“People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial. 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,” wrote Bickert.

“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 recognising that this speech may have consequences elsewhere.”

The gun control advocates Bickert references include New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action, all of which were involved in devising Facebook’s new measures.

Reforms coming soon

Specifically, when a report is received of a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item, a message will be sent to the poster reminding them of relevant laws and regulations. In addition, pages primarily used to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services wil be required to include language that clearly reminds people of these laws and regulations and the importance of compliance.

Both posts and pages of this nature will be limited for access only to users who are over 18 years of age.

Users also won’t be allowed to post offers selling regulated items that “indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law,” wrote Bickert. This means that private sellers of guns will not be permitted to use the social network to promote sales across US state lines or sales without background checks.

Furthermore, on Facebook-owned Instagram, ‘in-app education’ will appear for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.

Licensed gun sellers will still be allowed to promote above-board services using the social network and Facebook will rely on user reporting to uncover those pages and posts that are breaking the new rules, which will be implemented in the coming weeks.

Image of gun by Dino Osmic via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.