Facebook goes thumbs-down on illegal gun sales

Facebook says it will take action against sellers who may use the site to evade laws

Facebook on Wednesday announced a set of new restrictions designed to curb the illegal sale of guns and other restricted items on its site, a phenomenon that had become vexing problem for the social network.

Facebook is not an e-commerce site, but it is a popular place for online chatter, sometimes around physical goods. Guns, as both topic of conversation and offered for sale, are not hard to find on the site. And some people, not wanting to bother with paperwork or having proper ID, have turned to the site to buy them. It's an issue that's seen increased attention in recent weeks.

Facebook Guns
A gun offered for sale on Facebook's site.

The company wants to crack down on this type of activity among its users. In the coming weeks, Facebook said it would start taking enforcement actions in response to certain activities on its site, if members of the Facebook community tip them off.

"We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law," said Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, in the company's announcement.

Under the changes, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will be not be permitted to specify "no background check required," nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer, Facebook said.

The company said it would contact people who publish to the site promoting the sale of commonly regulated items, reminding them to comply with relevant laws and regulations. Only people whose profiles say they are over the age of 18 will be able to see such posts. Pages that are used primarily to promote the sale of regulated items like guns will be required to include language reminding others of relevant laws and regulations, and access will be limited to people who say they are over the age of 18 if required by law.

If people search for sales or promotions of guns on Instagram, such as by using the hashtag "#gunsforsale," Facebook said it would provide similar in-app education. Facebook also said it would continue to enforce its advertising policies, which do not allow the promotion of weapons, prescription and illegal drugs, and several other products.

Facebook worked with a number of gun safety groups to develop its enforcement measures, such as Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action, as well as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

"I applaud Facebook and Instagram for taking the lead in helping avoid illegal gun sales on these increasingly ubiquitous platforms," Schneiderman said in a statement.

On the Facebook page "Guns for Sale," however, some criticized the changes, arguing that they violated their First and Second Amendment rights. Several thousand people have already signed a Change.org petition, asking the site not to prohibit firearm-related Facebook pages.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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