Facebook largely ignores senator’s questions about gun sales

Facebook largely ignored a swath of questions put forth by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey in an inquiry into gun sales on the social media site and sistered site, Instagram.

In June, the outspoken gun control advocate sent a detailed three-page letter to the social media giant seeking answers as to why social media users are still able to post guns for sale on the sites.

“I remain deeply concerned that gun sales on Facebook and Instagram — or sales posted online but negotiated and concluded offline — may circumvent or violate state and federal laws, resulting in numerous unlawful sales of handguns, assault weapons, and other firearms,” Markey said. “Facebook and Instagram make available for purchase the very types of weapons used in the mass shootings in Orlando, Newtown, San Bernardino, among others.”

In Facebook’s response, dated July 27, Erin Egan, Vice President of U.S. Policy danced around most of Markey’s questions opting instead to expound on how the sites learn and dispose of sale posts.

“When we become aware of any content that violates our standards, we remove it immediately. This includes disabling Facebook and Instagram accounts dedicated to the peer-to-peer sale of firearms and removing violating Facebook Pages and Groups,” Egan said.

Egan explained both Instagram and Facebook still rely heavily on the user reporting function. Flagged posts are immediately hidden from the public and go to a Community Operations team for review. Egan said that the global review team works 24 days a year, seven days a week to ensure correctly reported posts are removed.

Facebook and Instagram announced the all out ban on peer-to-peer firearm sales in January. By May, Forbes and a host of gun control organizers pushed for more reform as gun sales were still readily available on both sites. 

“As recently as today, my office was able to find postings for gun sales on Facebook using search terms like ‘AR15 Selling’ and ‘selling sig sauer,’ and on Instagram using search terms like ‘#Glock’ and ‘#PistolSale,’” Markey said in June.

The desire to remove firearms escalated after news outlets reported that Micah Johnson bought an AK-47 from Facebook in 2014. Johnson shot and killed five police officers in a Dallas last month, marking the event as one of the deadliest attacks on police in U.S. history.

Though Markey specifically asked the social media site about the Johnson rumors, all he received was a fleeting invitation to talk personally with the company regarding the matter.

Markey issued a quick statement on Tuesday in response to Facebook’s letter. The Massachusetts’ senator urged the networking sites to double down on their efforts and enact policies with a little more oomph.

“While I commend the platforms’ facilitating the reporting of prohibited content related to gun sales by users, I urge Facebook and Instagram to redouble their efforts to develop and deploy technology that can enforce their gun-sales ban without relying so heavily on user reporting,” Markey said. “Facebook and Instagram’s ban on private firearms sales should have the teeth it needs to be effective, so that it can truly prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who should not have them.”