How Effective Is Facebook’s Ban on Gun Sales?

Private gun groups on the social media site have figured out how to bypass it

Facebook social media user
Facebook supposedly banned the private sale of guns years ago. Turns out that's not the whole story.
Chesnot/Getty Images

Back in January 2016, Facebook banned private gun sales on its website, but as a new piece by Protocol’s Matt Drange points out, that hasn’t exactly stopped people from selling and trading the weapons on the platform.

Drange writes that many private Facebook groups like the Virginia Gun Enthusiasts Group side-step Facebook’s ban by outlining rules on their page — “… No private gun sales are allowed. Any firearms listed with a price will be deleted and you will be removed from the group. PICTURES ONLY …” — with the understanding that its members will post pictures of guns and caption them “not for sale,” and then interested customers private message the seller anyway.

To prove this point, he messaged several users who had posted photos in the group, including one who posted an AR-15 captioned “Not for sale or trade!!!!”, asking if the gun in the photo was for sale. The response? “Looking for $600 FIRM.”

“If we catch someone selling guns on Facebook, we take immediate action,” a Facebook spokesperson told Protocol. “Over 93% of the firearm sales content we remove is detected proactively, which is why we continue investing in our detection and reporting systems.”

However, the article also features comments from a former Facebook employee, who said, “The Facebook playbook was to get it down to a level that was acceptable. Because to do more would intrude on the ethos of the product. To review every single PM, post, comment … that level of scrutiny is just not reasonable.”

“The fact that a former Facebook employee recognized that the company’s real intentions were not to completely avoid gun sales on its platform, but to reduce them to some ‘acceptable’ level, is baffling,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said in response. “No level of gun sales on Facebook or any other social media platform is acceptable. Period. If Facebook — and others — cannot enforce their own policies, we need to seriously discuss whether a federal response may be the only way to address this increasingly worrying issue.”

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