Facebook has rolled out a new policy on information related to gun sales. Although actual gun sales have never been permitted on the social media platform, the site has been used to facilitate illegal gun sales in the past. In an effort to stop this practice, Facebook will now actively monitor any conversations that could help purchasers seeking firearms through unregulated sales, as well as alert law enforcement officials when a potentially illegal sale is occurring.
The new policy is, at least in part, a response to recent news reports that anyone—even children—could purchase a gun through Facebook. The news organization VentureBeat reported that potential guy buyers could obtain information on Facebook and make a gun purchase in just 15 minutes. These illegal transactions also prompted an investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In one instance, a Kentuch high school student was found with an unlicensed pistol at his school, which he had purchased through Facebook.
As part of the new policy, Facebook encourages anyone seeing evidence of illegal activity on its site to immediately report it. This would result in the alleged illegal content being flagged and the police alerted. Facebook also prohibits the posting of content related to illegal drugs, cigarettes and tobacco products, prescription drugs, alcohol and gambling.
Facebook executives recognize that this new policy may be controversial, but have publicly stated that this is part of an effort to keep the public safe. While the company recognizes that the social media site is a platform for the free discourse of topics, it also emphasizes that the welfare of the public takes precedence. Facebook has said it will evaluate reports of illicit behavior very seriously which could lead to removal of questionable content and notification of local police if immediate threats to others are discovered.
Facebook has come under criticism in recent years for failing to monitor the behavior of its users. A petition was created by Change.org which included the signatures of almost 95,000 supporters urging Facebook to prohibit any gun sales through its community. This strong grassroots support may also encourage other social networks like Twitter and Google Plus to reexamine their gun sales policies and bring them more in line with Facebook’s.
These new policies will include age limits for pages which promote the sales of guns, adult products and alcohol. There will also be new language detailing laws related to gun use and purchase. Facebook will also implement a strong educational component for those who wish to sell or purchase guns. The focus of the policy is to bring greater alignment with U.S. gun laws.
While this new policy has been well received by anti-gun groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, it is still unknown how the powerful gun lobby, National Rifle Association and other groups will respond. The topic of guns is a very popular topic in the online community and the NRA could attempt to step in and protect the free speech component.