Moms Demand Action answers questions about Facebook policy changes

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action wants to end gun swaps made through facebook and Instagram.  (Photo credit: Moms Demand Action)

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. (Photo credit: Moms Demand Action)

Yesterday, the Internet was abuzz with news that social media giant Facebook (and Instagram, which Facebook owns) would make changes to its policies regarding firearms at the behest of the pro-gun control organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Obviously, for Guns.com an independent pro-gun website made up of pro-gun writers and journalists, the announcement was of particular interest not only because we love guns and the gun community, but on an operational level a sizable portion of our readership is trafficked in via Facebook, not to mention that our comment section in our published articles is generated by Facebook.

Were Facebook to make drastic changes banning gun-related speech or content, we’d be adversely affected. So would other pro-gun websites and organizations like the National Rifle Association, which has over 3 million Facebook friends or ‘likes’ — by comparison Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has approximately 270,000, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has almost 21,000 and Guns.com has more than 350,000 — that use Facebook to communicate with and inform members, readers, and enthusiasts about the issues that matter.

Thankfully, Facebook is not banning gun owners, gun-related speech or even gun sellers and buyers from frequenting the social media platform. What Facebook is doing is enhancing regulations and monitoring efforts to target illicit firearm transactions, as Erika Soto Lamb, communication director of MDA, confirmed in an email yesterday.

“Facebook listened to Moms Demand Action and recognized the potential for illegal firearm sales through its platforms and announced policy changes that will make it more difficult for these kinds of transactions to take place,” she wrote.

In other words, Facebook is going to try to prevent gun sellers from using the platform to transfer a firearm to a prohibited person, e.g. a felon, a drug addict, an individual that’s been adjudicated mentally ill, someone under the age of 18 or in a manner that violates federal or state law.

To crackdown on illegal activity, Facebook is implementing the following policy changes:

-Facebook will block all children (under 18) from viewing reported posts from individual gun sellers or gun pages where guns are sold or traded.
-Facebook will allow users to report posts that may facilitate or promote potentially illegal gun activity.
-Facebook will delete reported posts that indicate that the seller will not conduct a background check or that a buyer is seeking to avoid a background check.
-Facebook will delete reported posts that indicate that a seller is willing to sell across state lines.
-Facebook will continue to report to law enforcement any gun-related posts that may pose a threat to public safety.
-Facebook will require private sellers who are reported for offering a gun for sale to acknowledge the relevant laws that apply to them – including that background checks may be required before completing a sale. These sellers will be blocked by Facebook from continuing to the site until they acknowledge this policy.
-All Facebook Pages and groups must prominently state that sellers and buyers must comply with all applicable laws, including conducting a background check where required. Facebook will take down reported pages and groups where guns are sold until the owner of the page acknowledges this policy and includes this information prominently at the top of the page. Facebook’s Help Center will remind sellers that they may conduct background checks for safety purposes even where not legally required.
-When someone searches on Instagram for a hashtag related to gun offers (e.g. #guns4sale) they will be required to acknowledge the relevant laws that apply to them in this area before they see search results.
-Facebook will provide public education ad space targeted at users interested in firearm-related content to ensure they know about the laws related to gun sales. Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns will provide content for these ads.

So, via community-sourced policing, education and public outreach, boiler-plate disclosures and acknowledgments, Facebook and MDA believes it will be more effective at stopping users from transferring guns to prohibited person.

To be doubly sure, I asked Soto Lamb about the rather blanketed policy change listed above, “Facebook will delete reported posts that indicate that a seller is willing to sell across state lines,” noting that sales across state lines are lawful if they go through a federal firearms licensee or gun shop dealer.

Soto Lamb agreed with that assessment, “There is nothing wrong with any gun sale that is facilitated via an FFL. As we’ve said many times in this campaign — we are not targeting legal gun sales, we are concerned with the potential facilitation of illegal gun sales.”

“Like posts that explicitly state a willingness to sell without a background check, law enforcement officials have told us that posts where the seller is willing to sell across state lines is a key indicator that users may be seeking to avoid the life-saving checks that bar minors, felons, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people from buying guns,” she explained further.

In light of the news, the blogosphere erupted. The NRA claimed victory, implying Moms failed to accomplish its original goal of getting Facebook to “prohibit the private selling or trading of guns on its platform.”

“The NRA enjoys 150 times more support on Facebook than Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That’s why Bloomberg and the gun control groups he funds tried to pressure Facebook into shutting down discussion of Second Amendment issues on its social media platforms,” said NRA-ILA executive director Chris Cox in a statement.

“Bloomberg failed,” he continued. “NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform on which to exercise rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms.”

Meanwhile, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence also suggested the MDA fell short of its original goal.

“This new policy is not a victory because Facebook continues to makes it too easy for dangerous people to evade a background check when buying guns. A mere warning to follow the law and community-based reporting will not do enough to prevent unchecked gun sales to dangerous people,” says Daniel Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“As we and thousands of others have told Facebook, unlicensed gun sales have no place on the social network. Facebook should prohibit all posts that advertise the unlicensed sale or transfer of firearms in the United State. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before a gun purchased through Facebook without a background check is used in a terrible tragedy,” concluded Gross.

Though, MDA dismissed their critics, maintaining that the policy changes will have an impact.

“Facebook’s policy changes are significant and show that we’ve got momentum on our side, 90 percent of the country behind us, and plenty of evidence to prove that background checks work,” Soto Lamb said. “We will do everything we can to protect our children, communities and prevent gun violence.”

Perhaps one can argue that it already has.  The Facebook community known as ‘Guns For Sale’ issued a statement in which they embraced the policy changes, saying “We applaud Facebook for taking a deeper look into this issue that will help make our country a safer place while still keeping our freedoms intact.”