An advocacy group has launched a campaign urging Facebook and Instagram to stop allowing gun sales on their sites. But what Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is asking for is tricky, because neither site actually allows anyone to sell anything — whether it’s guns or roses — on their platforms.
The group says that although the social networking sites don’t allow transactions, there are many pages and accounts that facilitate gun sales and trades — and it’s impossible to tell whether those transactions involve background checks.
“Private gun sales between anonymous parties are a clear threat to public safety, and must be added to the list of prohibited content,” Shannon Watts, founder of the Moms Demand Action group, said in a statement. “We are shocked and disappointed that the platforms we use to share photos of our children and stay connected to friends and family are also being used for unregulated gun sales and trades.”
Still, Facebook-owned Instagram and Facebook itself point out that not only do they not allow transactions, their terms of service also prohibit ads that involve gun sales.
“You can’t buy things on Instagram and Facebook, nor can you you promote the sale or use of weapons in advertising. We encourage people who come across any illegal activity to report it to us,” a Facebook spokesman said.
Such activity on Instagram and other sites, by the way, include sales of illegal drugs. It’s clear that although social sites aren’t focused on commerce like, say, craigslist or eBay — which prohibit or have strict rules about the sale of guns — they’re being used as storefronts for illegal wares. In fact, New York City’s biggest seizure of illegal guns last summer involved at least one man who mentioned weapons sales on Instagram and YouTube, according to the New York Daily News.
The Moms Demand Action campaign — which was partly inspired by that New York gun bust — isn’t the first to address gun sales on social media. As we’ve written, legislators have called on Instagram (and Facebook and Twitter) to do something about gun sales enabled by their sites. But one problem is that laws regarding gun sales vary by state, so the sites’ bans on promotion of illegal activity is basically moot.
What to do, then? The campaign wants Facebook to take down pages that involve gun sales. So it becomes a censorship issue.
“Facebook already makes decisions in the public interest that restrict speech,” Watts said in an email. “Facebook is a privately owned company. They have the right to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not on the site.”
Photo of machine guns from KRT archives