Facebook, Instagram Regulate Gun Sales

Mar 6, 2014
Originally published on March 6, 2014 4:58 pm

Facebook has announced that it will regulate gun sales on its social networking site and on its photo sharing app Instagram.

The company was under pressure from gun control and law enforcement groups to crack down on private sales of guns on the sites, claiming they may be sold to minors and bypass background checks.

The National Rifle Association declared “victory” and said the Facebook policy change fails in its attempts to limit its members’ freedoms.

Tom Giles of Bloomberg News joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the new Facebook rule and how it will be enforced.


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This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

And Facebook has announced that it will crackdown on posts about gun sales on its site and also on its photo-sharing app Instagram. The new policy comes after the company was pressured by gun control groups.

And we're joined now from New York by Tom Giles, an editor at Bloomberg News. He's with us from the newsroom to talk about this. Tom, welcome.

TOM GILES: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: Well, first of all, there's no actual money exchanged over Facebook when it comes to gun sales. What exactly does Facebook have to do with gun sales?

GILES: Sure. Absolutely. This is not an e-commerce site. But what they're doing is they're going to take a couple of moves to discourage, you know, conversations around illegal activity. They're going to delete posts in cases where a user, you know, somehow expresses a willingness or an intent to engage in breaking the law, like selling a gun without a background check or transporting it across, you know, U.S. state lines.

In other instances, they're going to take action such as, you know, in group pages where there's discussion of buying and selling of guns. They're going to have to include language about the importance of following the law. Those are some of the steps that they're going to take. And there's also going to be a self-policing, you know, component to this where they're asking people to report when they can see instances of discussions or postings around illegal activity.

HOBSON: Well, yeah, I imagine self-policing is going to be a big part of this because I can't imagine that Facebook has the capacity to go and monitor every single post.

GILES: They've got more than a billion users. So that's something that they really have to rely on, is when people, you know, are indicating, you know, is this - and you can think of it yourself if you use Facebook, you're regularly asked, is this something that you want to report? Is this person spamming you? There's all kinds of mechanisms that we have as users of this social network to, kind of, you know, indicate when things that, you know, when we see something, they give us a chance to say something.

HOBSON: Well, why did Facebook decide to do this now? We talked about pressure from gun control groups.

GILES: Right. They've been working with gun control groups. They've been working with groups like Mayors, you know, the Mayors Group Against Illegal Gun Activity.

HOBSON: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York.

GILES: Right. Exactly. Also owner of Bloomberg L.P., of course. What - they've had conversations with them. Facebook has to walk a fine line here. Remember, they don't want to be seen as a site that is trying to trample our First Amendment rights. It's a very fine line for them. At the same time, they get into a lot of trouble when it starts to become a free-for-all for groups that are - that somehow are advocating illegal behavior, advocating hate speech, advocating violence against women or other groups.

So these are the kinds of things that Facebook has to take very delicate steps, in some cases, to discourage on its site without becoming - without developing a reputation for just, you know, tramping on our First Amendment rights willy-nilly.

HOBSON: Well, and actually, the Brady Campaign actually said that this doesn't go far enough.

GILES: Right. I mean, there's always going to be advocacy groups that will say, look, you know, Facebook needs to go further, needs to take, you know, take further steps. There's other groups that said, you know, this is really a step in the right direction. And what you're talking about is not just about what happens on Facebook. It also has to do with, you know, Instagram, its site. And there's a belief that what Facebook does and how Facebook handles this will be - is a model for other groups - for other companies like Twitter.

HOBSON: Well, and a lot of reaction coming in. There was a person who posted on Facebook: I wish Facebook would spend more time monitoring and battling cyber bullying and sexual predators, which is a far greater social ill on our society than gun sales. Most of which are completely legal.

We invite you to weigh in, by the way, at hereandnow.org about this. And, Tom Giles at Bloomberg News, thank you so much for explaining it to us.

GILES: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.