Facebook on Wednesday announced policy changes affecting the way firearms are advertised and sold on the social networking site. Instagram, which Facebook acquired back in 2012, is also affected by the new rules.
The move comes in the wake of protests by groups against the sale of such weapons on the sites. A campaign by Moms Demand Action, for example, has seen more than 230,000 people send letters direct to Facebook demanding it clamps down on gun sales on both social media sites, while Massachusetts senator Ed Markey contacted Instagram last year to ask the service to “prohibit the use of its service to enable sales of firearms.”
Facebook said that from Wednesday any pages used primarily “to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services” will now have to include information “that clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations.”
Similarly, when it receives a report about a regulated item being promoted through its site, it will now send a message to the poster reminding them to comply with relevant laws and regulations. “We will also limit access to that post to people over the age of 18,” Facebook added.
In addition, it stated it would take down posts by private sellers offering to sell guns without background checks or across state lines.
For Instagram, Facebook said it’ll be providing “special in-app education” for anyone searching the media-sharing service for gun sales or promotions.
‘A difficult challenge’
The social media giant acknowledged that people use its site to discuss regulated or controversial products, but was keen to point out that “it’s not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram.”
The company described the subject of firearms as “one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals’ desire to express themselves on our services,” while at the same time repeating its request that users of the site continue to report anything that they believe may violate site policies.
“Our campaign exposed how simple it is for dangerous people to get their hands on guns, no questions asked, not only on Facebook and Instagram, but across the Internet,” John Feinblatt, chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said in a joint statement with Moms Demand Action.
However, the NRA have responded by saying that campaigners are attempting to close down free speech on social networking sites, accusing them of “trying to pressure Facebook into shutting down discussion of Second Amendment issues on its social media platforms,” according to Chris Cox of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.
It’s impossible to say right now how effective Facebook’s new policies will be regarding gun sales, but no doubt both the NRA and those who campaigned for Wednesday’s changes will be following developments closely to see the extent to which the new measures change the way firearms appear on the two sites.