Facebook Releases Statement On Gun Sales Policy


In the past 24 hours, firearms and airsoft websites and forums have been discussing about the possible changes on Facebook Policies related to gun-related topics.  Gun control groups in the US have been pressuring the world's biggest social network on gun-themed pages, which according to VentureBeat:

The social network has been under pressure from the powerful Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the Moms Demand Action civic group to ban gun-themed fan pages on the site.

One incident may have emboldened them to pressure Facebook, which VentureBeat writes further:

Last October, a 15-year-old high school student in Kentucky bought a 9mm handgun from a man he met through a Facebook fan page. The teen was arrested when he was caught with the loaded pistol on the campus of Greenup County High School. The seller drove from Ohio to Kentucky to make the sale and was also arrested. The suspect told sheriff’s investigators he sold other guns to people he met on Facebook fan pages.

The pressure from the groups goes beyond the unregulated sale of firearms via social network, as what they demand is a ban on "gun-themed" fan pages. Since this is a broad term, many in the airsoft communities assume that this will also cover airsoft given how airsoft guns closely resemble real firearms.

We can all heave a sigh of relief as Facebook made a policy announcement which basically affects commercial activities such as the sale of prohibited items on their social network. Yesterday, Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management of Facebook, posted the policy change:

Facebook, Instagram Announce New Educational and Enforcement Measures for Commercial Activity

Facebook, at its heart, is about helping people connect and communicate. Because of the diversity of people and cultures on our services, we know that people sometimes post or share things that may be controversial or objectionable. We work hard to find a balance between enabling people to express themselves about topics that are important to them, and creating an environment that is safe and respectful.

This balance is important to how we view commercial activity on Facebook or Instagram. We have strict rules about how businesses can use our advertising tools. For example, we do not permit advertising for illegal drugs, tobacco products, prescription pharmaceuticals, weapons, and several other products and services, and restrict advertising for products such as alcohol, adult products, and gaming. In all cases, we have systems in place to review and remove advertising that violates our policies, is false, deceptive, or misleading.

Of course, most of our tools are free to use, and many people and organizations use them to establish a presence on Facebook, including to promote commercial transactions. 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. 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.

People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial. In some cases they promote these products for sale or use, even though it's not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram. While we've recently heard specific concerns from people about offers for the private sales of firearms, this is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals' desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere.

Today, we are introducing a series of new educational and enforcement efforts for people discussing the private sale of regulated items:

  • Any time we receive a report on Facebook about a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item, we will send a message to that person reminding him or her to comply with relevant laws and regulations. We will also limit access to that post to people over the age of 18.
  • We will require Pages that are primarily used by people to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services 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.
  • We will provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.
  • We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to specify “no background check required,” nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.

We have worked with a number of individuals and organizations on the development of these efforts, which will be implemented and enforced in the coming weeks. We are grateful in particular for the advice offered by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action, which helped us develop an approach for the private sale of firearms. We also appreciate the feedback provided by the Facebook Safety Advisory Board.

As always, we encourage people who see anything that violates our policies to report it to us using the tools found throughout our services. Facebook and Instagram will continue to remove content, and notify law enforcement where appropriate, when we are notified about things shared on our services that suggest a direct, credible risk to others’ safety. We will also continue to strictly enforce our advertising policies.

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

Reading the announcement, there is no ban on gun-themed pages, but they will be monitoring closely  commercial activities including private sales of firearms. These pages will be reminded that they will have to comply with local laws. My understanding that this covers real steel firearms, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is also extended to airsoft guns as there are countries which restrict the sale of airsoft guns to persons 18 years and above, or those who need a Valid Defence such as in the United Kingdom.

Thus, for existing airsoft "buy and sell" Facebook pages, the maintainers will have to review or revise their policies that will reflect local laws or be in accordance with the policy changes.

Going back to the policy announcement, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), noticed that that organizations consulted were mainly gun control groups and there was no organization representing gun enthusiasts to give the consultations a more balanced representation. They immediately put out a statement:

Facebook today acted to provide clarification  to its policies on postings concerning firearms and agreed to provide educational messaging on its platform. We are in agreement that all applicable laws should be observed in the private transfer of firearms. We would have welcomed the opportunity to provide our industry’s perspective, however, and regret that we were not consulted. Facebook’s clarification will not affect the lawful commerce in firearm and ammunition products for NSSF members and their customers.

So far, every gun-themed page, including Popular Airsoft, has dodged the bullet that they would get banned by Facebook. There are already existing policies of Facebook governing restricted goods, and that existing local laws are to be followed by those who are to go into commercial activity via Facebook.

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