Facebook Exits The Gun Show

Gun sales: Unlike Hansel from “Zoolander,” they’re not so hot right now.

Perhaps taking into account how online behavior affects the offline world, Facebook on Friday (Jan. 29) announced that it was banning private gun sales on its namesake social network, as well as on Instagram.

It’s a move, The New York Times points out, that appears, in some part, to be a response to individual sellers of firearms saying, in the wake of President Obama’s Jan. 5 speech outlining stronger gun control legislation, that they would turn to sites like Facebook — which, before last Friday, had allowed for private gun transactions requiring no dealer’s license, official records or criminal background check — to hawk their wares.

Although Facebook, as NPR’s Laura Rydell reported, “has never been directly involved in gun selling … it has been a place where buyers and sellers have negotiated sales,” guns now join marijuana, pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs as items that are prohibited from being sold on the website, ending Facebook’s position as one of the world’s largest marketplace for firearms (which, NYT notes, the social networking site had become). The latter story adds that licensed gun dealers and gun clubs, meanwhile, will continue to be allowed to maintain a presence on both Facebook and Instagram.

On Friday, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman praised Facebook’s announcement as “another positive step toward our shared goal of stopping illegal online gun sales, once and for all,” in a statement shared by NYT.

The all-out ban of private gun sales on its site follows efforts previously made by Facebook to regulate such transactions. In March 2014, the company announced that it was limiting the selling of guns on the website, including blocking users under the age of 18 from being able to access related advertising.

Between then and now, however, posits NYT, such policies have put Facebook in a bit of a quandary as efforts to maintain them are somewhat at odds with the social network’s dedicated moves into the eCommerce space, such as its Services portal that launched in December of last year and connects consumers to local businesses and — prior to that, in March 2015 — facilitating person-to-person payments on Messenger.

The solution for Facebook, a company spokeswoman told NYT, is to concurrently update its content policy as it moves toward on-site payments.

In a statement shared with several outlets (NYT included), Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of product policy, said: “Over the last two years, more and more people have been using Facebook to discover products and to buy and sell things to one another. We are continuing to develop, test and launch new products to make this experience even better for people and are updating our regulated goods policies to reflect this evolution.”

With 80 percent of Americans having stated, in a New York Daily News/Rasmussen reports poll, that they are in favor of stricter gun control laws and 67 percent supporting, via a CNN/ORC poll, President Obama’s measures outlined in the aforementioned speech (which was delivered about a month after the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California), it follows that Facebook’s move to ban private gun sales on its site(s) has largely been met, so far, with widespread public approval.

Guns being the hot button issue that they are in America, however, there are some dissenting voices — such as the conservative Washington Examiner, which took a short break yesterday (Feb. 1) from praising the total radness of Ted Cruz to float a theory that, essentially, that dang socialist Kenyan Obama is making Facebook take everybody’s illegally obtained guns away — but they are few and far between in the current climate.

Although, as an article on Slate pointed out, plenty of private gun sales and trades remained active on Facebook the day after it announced its ban (the current method of the site policing such activity heavily relies on users reporting it, which is arguably not an air-tight system), the fact that a social networking powerhouse with more than 1.5 billion monthly active users — plus an additional 400 million-plus on Instagram — has definitively placed itself in opposition to the online trade of firearms by private sellers will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on other companies, both online and off, at the very least compelling them to reassess their position on the matter.

As Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said to NYT of Facebook’s decision: “What they’re doing is sending such an incredibly strong, sentinel signal to the world that America is working in the right direction on guns. For them to take a stand and do the right thing gives cover to other businesses to do the right thing.”

Doing the right thing about gun sales: So hot right now.


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