Well, that didn’t take long. After it was (yet again) revealed that Instagram is home to firearm buying and selling, politicians are calling on the platform to come down on such operations. Last month, new app Hashbag launched, giving us an incredibly easy way to find anything and everything users were selling on Instagram. Things like concert tickets, gently-used clothing, knick-knacks … and also, guns.
This wasn’t the first time it surfaced that Instagram is home to illicit markets. There’s a black market drug trade as well, and if you think Facebook doesn’t have these exact same problems, you’re very wrong. So what do politicians want Instagram to do about it?
“I write to ask that Instagram prohibit the use of its service to enable sales of firearms, consistent with policies adopted by online marketplace entities such as Craigslist and eBay,” Senator Ed Markey wrote in letter to the company yesterday. “… Unlike online marketplaces such as eBay, Instagram’s technology enables a seller to publicize products widely without registering as a seller or otherwise disclosing his or her identity. Firearm sales that are initiated via Instagram can be concluded offline, in the absence of any statutory or regulatory requirements.”
Because Instagram doesn’t regulate sales, it means a variety of situations are possible: Underage users could buy guns, criminals could buy guns, people with violent histories could buy guns – and it could all be completely untraceable. The platform for these sales, Instagram, is in no way holding background checks or ensuring that sellers do.
Lawmakers are surely looking at the numbers and seeing the threat of an unstoppable black market for firearms. Instagram values anonymity, and if you don’t sign up with a Facebook account, there could be nothing on your profile that’s identifiable. You also don’t have to be 18 to sign up, and the network’s user numbers now lie around 350 million (and counting). Things could very quickly and easily spiral; there are walls that within the likes of Craigslist, eBay, and even Facebook (i.e., that real name policy) that help keep people from using them for gun sales. Instagram has none of those.
Because Instagram is owned by Facebook, it may have to institute some sort of policy change, given that Facebook’s terms do not allow the sale or advertisement of “weapons and related items.” Instagram has no problem blocking hashtags, so perhaps the fix will be something as simple as yielding no results when we try to search for illegal items using apps like Statigram or Hashbag.
Instagram never wanted or intended to be a marketplace, that was something initiated entirely by users. But as more and more apps help exploit this trend, Instagram will have to address the problem before it becomes a liability.