Facebook announced on Wednesday that it will be taking steps to restrict the sale of firearms on its website. According to Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert, the social media giant will be blocking minors from viewing posts that are related to the sale of guns and “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.” The company will also be adopting the same policy on Instagram, an online photo-sharing service acquired by Facebook in 2012.
Gun control advocates such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are calling the change of policy a significant victory. The two groups created a petition for Facebook to change their policy on firearms earlier in the year, a month-long campaign that drew over 230,000 signatures. Gun control activists said that unlike websites dedicated solely to the sale of firearms, Facebook reaches a massive audience.
“On the same site that people are sharing birthday parties and family reunions,there are photos of AK-47s,” John Feinblatt, chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told USA Today. “This is not in the bowels of Facebook. This is upfront, center and easy to access.”
The new changes involve a series of what Bickert deemed “educational and enforcement efforts” related to the private sale of regulated items. Users can report posts involving the sale of regulated items, such as firearms, to Facebook. The company will then send a message to the post’s author reminding them of relevant laws and regulations, as well as blocking the post from being viewed by any user under the age of 18. Facebook also now requires all user-maintained pages that sell regulated goods and services to post language regarding relevant laws and regulations, as well as blocking these pages from minor access. Posts that involve illegal transactions will be deleted.
“Facebook, at its heart, is about helping people connect and communicate,” Bickert stated. “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.”
Bickert went on to say that while its users may use the website to sell items much like a bulletin board, Facebook itself does not oversee or complete these transactions. Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts claimed in a press release that these sales can be dangerous.
“Our campaign showed how easy it is for minors, felons and other dangerous people to get guns online—that’s why moms and more than 230,000 Americans signed our petition, tweeted and used social media to ask Facebook and Instagram to do something about gun sales facilitated on their networks,” Watts said. “We are happy that these companies listened to American mothers and we believe these changes are a major step toward making sure people who buy or sell guns on their platforms know the law, and follow it. Moms are particularly pleased that Facebook will block minors from seeing posts about gun sales or trades, and that we can be confident that these social networks will be safe spaces for our kids.”
Some gun owners on Facebook, however, are saying that they are unfairly discriminated against. A petition on change.org is urging Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to reverse the new policy. The petition gained almost 5,000 supporters in less than a day. Many gun rights supporters see the policy change by Facebook as a concession to gun control groups, which the company partnered with to develop the new approach.