As reported in The New York Times, Facebook has recently decided to ban private gun sales from both Facebook and Instagram in response to unlicensed sellers who declared their intention to get around President Obama’s efforts to tighten regulation on the sales of guns. The Editorial Board of the Times calls this ban “sensible” and suggests that Facebook is “big and important.”
The editors got one thing right. Facebook is big. It’s also self-important, but that may not be what they meant. But a lot of users seem to be confused about why the social media behemoth exists. In case anyone missed basic economics, I’ll point out here that corporations have one primary purpose: making money for their owners. Their public image, their charitable acts, their choices of markets are all directed at enabling that goal.
In other words, Facebook wasn’t formed as a non-profit blog for the sharing of cat videos and baby pictures. Dear users, you are not the customer. You are the product. Whatever you post or like will be used to direct advertisements at you.
This is not to say that corporations always make good choices. Gun owners who have Facebook accounts are expressing their complaints about the change, and if Everytown for Gun Safety—a source used by the Editorial Board of the Times—is to be believed, the site is a significant medium for private sales in Nevada and presumably in many others. It might be instructive to gain access to Facebook’s internal discussions. Sometimes, corporations lose track of what they’re supposed to be doing, and other times, they have information about their markets that consumers aren’t privy to. (This calls into question Adam Smith’s idea about buyers and sellers having perfect information, but I digress.)
Nevertheless, this decision has been made, though that isn’t as final as it sounds, given the way Facebook seems to remake itself at random. But as with all gun control measures, those who seek greater regulation are always playing catch-up. This is confirmed all the more by the nature of the Internet. Facebook may want to create the impression of being the site for online activity, but influence on the World Wide Web is only as great as users allow it to be. Other sites for private sellers already exist—readers are invited to name their favorites in the comments—and new ones can pop up without limit.
I do mean without limit. Even if a law could be passed and found constitutional to ban such websites, that law would have force only within U.S. jurisdiction, and a glory of the Internet is that it is worldwide. As with 3-D printing, so with the virtual world—power is distributed. Attempts to erect walls and roadblocks only inspire new connections.
And so Facebook has made a decision that allows gun control advocates to do what they so often do, declare victory without meaningful accomplishments. If only they could stick with that as a strategy, the job of supporters of rights would be much easier. But every once in a while, they find something that works, so it’s up to us to keep developing work-arounds while we seek to solve the root problem, the yearning to control the lives of others.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.