Facebook updates policy on gun sale posts

Users will no longer be allowed to put up posts selling guns without a background check

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
March 5, 2014
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There are certain issues in this country that I know we are never going to ever finish fighting over. That includes topics like welfare, abortion and guns.

People have such entrenched feelings on these issues that there will never be a consensus. Some people love their guns like they are their children and want everyone to have one; other people would have no problem banning them outright. 

Obviously a ban on guns is never going to happen, but that has not stopped companies from taking decisive action when they can.

A company like Starbucks, for example, can ban concealed weapons in its stores. For Facebook that now means taking steps to restrict the illegal sales of guns on its site, a move it announced via a blog post put up on Tuesday.

The company already bans any advertisments for illegal drugs, tobacco products, prescription pharmaceuticals, weapons, and "several other products and services." It also restrict advertising for products such as alcohol, adult products, and gaming.

That, however, does not cover commercial transactions made over Facebook's tools, including Pages, posts and marketplaces, which can potentially be used to sell weapons.

"While people can't use our services to actually sell things to each other, they can set up a Page or make an occasional post to their Timeline to find a roommate, sell a home, or solicit contributions for a church or nonprofit organization," Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management, wrote.

"Just like posting on a bulletin board at a supermarket or community center, these activities may be considered commercial, but we treat this type of sharing like any other type of sharing on our services - and we respond to reports when something violates our Community Standards."

In order to prevent illegal sales of guns without a proper background check, Facebook says that, from now on, if it receives "a report on Facebook about a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item," the company will send a message to that user to remind them to comply with laws and regulations.

It will also limit the post to only be seen by those who are over 18.

In addition, any Pages that are used to sell items privately will be required to "include language that clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations, and limit access to people over the age of 18 or older if required by applicable law."

The company will also be regulating the languages used in such postings. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will no longer be permitted to specify “no background check required,” nor will they be able to offer transactions across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.

Finally, Facebook also say that it will "provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms."

Facebook says that it worked with numerous individuals and organizations to come up with these rules, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action.

The company has made efforts in the past to crack down on certain types of speech on its site, notably hate speech after criticism over ads that promoted violence against women. It has also, at times, been a bit arbitrary regarding what content it will, and will not, allow on the site. 

Facebook seems to recognize that it may be wading into slightly dangerous territory here, and is noting that it has no desire to restrict anyone's speech.

"We believe these collective efforts represent the right approach in balancing people's desire to express themselves while promoting a safe, responsible community," Bickert said.

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