Facebook and Instagram to crackdown on illegal sale of guns

The social media site will remove adverts that explicitly state the buyer will not perform a background check

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The Independent Tech

Unregulated sales of this sort have become widespread, with a black market of sorts springing up to advantage of the sites’ social functionality and online visibility.

While sites such as Craigslist that explicitly deal in online commerce have policies in place forbidding the sale of guns, the use of Facebook and Instagram for selling various goods (illegal and legal) has taken authorities by surprise.

On Instagram users can simply upload a picture of the weapon, adding hashtags to indicate that the item is for sale. Buyers can search for specific tags (eg “gun for sale”) with third-party site such as Hashbag and then contact the buyer by leaving a comment. Negotiations can then take place off-site after further contact details have been exchanged.

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A search for the hashtag gunsforsale on Hashbag still reveals plenty of weapons available.

Although the sale of guns in the US by private citizens is largely legal, gun control advocates say that sellers on social media sites rarely conduct the background checks necessary in some states to make sure the buyer is not prohibited from owning firearms.

In a blog post announcing the new policies Facebook said that they will “remove reported posts that explicitly indicate a specific attempt to evade or help others evade the law.

“For example, we will remove reported posts where the potential buyer or seller indicates they will not conduct a background check or are willing to sell across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.”

This means that the sale of weapons through the service will still be allowed, but sellers will not be allowed to advertise the fact that they will not perform a background check, and that unlicensed dealesr will now be allowed to sell across state lines.

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has been one of those asking Facebook to implement such restrictions, with his office collecting evidence that users were explicating advertising weapons that violated gun control laws.

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A typical advert for an assault rifle.

 

“Responsible social media sites know that it is in no one’s interest for their sites to become the 21st century black market in dangerous and illegal goods that place our families and communities at risk,” said Schneiderman.

“I congratulate Facebook and Instagram for taking these simple, common sense steps to protect the safety and security of their users, and encourage other social media sites to follow their lead.”

Facebook itself admits that while "it's not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram", the site "faces a difficult challenge balancing individuals' desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere."

Even if adverts explicitly promising illegal sales are banned, there's no way the sites can stop users from violating the law during the private negotiations that follow.

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