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Facebook to crack down on gun vendors

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Facebook announced Wednesday that it is cracking down on posts on its social networks that promote  illegal gun sales. Some people have been using the network to advertise the sale of firearms in the same way people use online bulletin boards. The practice, particularly the potential for minors to see the posts, has raised alarms among gun safety advocates.

In a company blog post, Facebook said that it is launching a series of new educational and enforcement efforts to fight the ads, brought to light in recent months by groups such as Moms Demand  Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

"People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial," said Facebook's head of global policy management, Monica Bickert. "In some cases they promote these products for sale or use, even though it's not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram."

To combat the problems, the social network said that it will take the following steps:

  • Any time we receive a report on Facebook about a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item, we will send a message to that person reminding him or her to comply with relevant laws and regulations. We will also limit access to that post to people over the age of 18.
  • We will require Pages that are primarily used by people to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services to include language that clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations, and limit access to people over the age of 18 or older if required by applicable law.
  • We will provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.

The compamy also said that it encourages anyone who sees a post promoting the sale of anything that violates its policies to report the page immediately.

In the post, Bikert alluded to the fact that Facebook is increasingly forced to balance the difficult question of when posts on its sites should be protected by free speech laws and when the network should move to censor user-submitted content. For example, Facebook recently implemented a policy that blocks advertisements from appearing on pages that carry controversial content, to avoid having companies associated with issues they don't support.

"While we've recently heard specific concerns from people about offers for the private sales of firearms, this is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals' desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere," Bickert wrote.