The Wall Street Journal: Facebook announced Wednesday new restrictions on promoting guns on the social network, amid pressure from groups favoring gun control.
In a blog post, Facebook said it will remove offers to sell guns without background checks or across state lines illegally. Facebook will notify users offering to sell guns of relevant laws and limit the visibility of posts and pages about gun sales to users 18 and older.
The company also announced that searches for guns for sale on Instagram will prompt messaging reminding users of gun laws.
The changes come after a six-week campaign by the advocacy groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which posted a video in February depicting illegal gun sales on Facebook. The groups planned to deliver more than 130,000 petitions seeking a crackdown on posts about illegal gun sales to Facebook headquarters before the company agreed to the new policies. Facebook also cited ongoing talks seeking new gun policies with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and Sandy Hook Promise.
Last week, technology news site VentureBeat reported that it arranged to buy a gun illegally on Facebook in 15 minutes, and The Wall Street Journal reported assault-weapons parts and concealed-carry weapon holsters have been advertised to teens on Facebook.
Illegal gun activity on Facebook “is in many cases blatant,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. She said the new rules reflect “how much power moms have as customers on Facebook.”
In a statement to The Journal, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose office was involved with the effort, said “I applaud Facebook for listening to the call of Moms Demand Action and doing the right thing.”
The moms and mayors groups have cited Facebook pages such as Guns For Sale, a “community” page with 213,000 “likes,” which often posts multiple photos of firearms for sale. Administrators of the Guns For Sale page did not respond to requests for comment.
Danny Herrera submitted a photo of a rifle for sale that was posted by the Guns For Sale page Monday. Herrera, who lives near Fontana in Southern California, said he plans to sell the gun legally, through a gun shop, and would require the buyer to act through a gun shop. Herrera said he previously sold a gun legally on Facebook. Other gun sellers also said legal sales take place on Guns for Sale. The advocacy groups said they were not concerned by legal sales.
New York Times: Guns are all over Facebook and Instagram. People talk about them, display them and celebrate them. They also buy and sell them — sometimes in illegal ways.
Last October, for instance, a 15-year-old Kentucky boy used Facebook to buy a handgun from an Ohio man. Federal law prohibits the sale of guns across state lines except by licensed dealers, while minors cannot buy handguns in any case.
Reporters for VentureBeat wrote last week that it took them only 15 minutes to find someone on Facebook willing to sell them a semiautomatic rifle, no identification required.
Craigslist and eBay do not allow firearms to be sold on their sites, but sellers on Facebook can be seen bragging that they will sell without any background check.
In an effort to curb illicit activity, Facebook introduced Wednesday a series of educational and enforcement efforts for sellers of guns. It will delete posts that seek to circumvent gun laws. It will restrict minors from viewing pages that sell guns. And it will inform potential sellers that private sales could be regulated or prohibited where they live.
Facebook will learn about restricted posts when a member of the community tips it off. After reviewing the case, the site will push educational material to the seller the next time he logs on. Administrators for pages promoting gun sales will be required to put the information into their “About” sections.
On Instagram, the process will be a little more automatic. Someone searching for a hashtag like #gunsforsale will get a “content advisory.”
Neither Facebook nor Instagram are e-commerce sites, but with over a billion users they encourage a lot of conversations that establish a framework for off-line deals. In some ways, the lack of an actual storefront promotes a willingness to believe there are no rules.
But in seeking to crack down on illegal activity, Facebook is simultaneously trying not to give the impression that it is squelching free speech. Already gun enthusiasts are saying that Facebook is negotiating to completely kill their pages.
“This is clearly an attempt to deny freedom of speech while persecuting American Arms Owners and Enthusiasts,” wrote one user on the Guns for Sale page. “Better fight this folks. It cannot be allowed to happen.”
Matt Steinfeld, a Facebook spokesman, said, “Our goal here is to balance people’s interest in sharing things that they care about while making sure our community is a safe and responsible one.”
Facebook’s shift on policy came after it had been talking to gun safety groups for about a year. Among them are Sandy Hook Promise, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Mr. Bloomberg said, “We are grateful that Facebook was willing to listen to the Moms, look at the information and adapt its policies to help make sure that people who shouldn’t have guns — like minors, felons and other dangerous people — aren’t able to get guns via their platform.”
John Feinblatt, chairman of the mayors’ group, said the new rule was “significant not just for the policies it puts in place, but for the cultural signal it is making: We are not going to let social media become an online gun show.”
In November, Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, became involved in the discussions.
“Responsible social media sites know that it is in no one’s interest for their sites to become the 21st-century black market in dangerous and illegal goods,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement.
The Kentucky youth who bought the handgun was arrested with the loaded weapon outside his school’s homecoming football game. He said he had bought the gun to be cool. The seller was charged last month with transferring a firearm to an out-of-state resident.