For going on months now, groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action, and their gun-control advocating ilk have been trying to push Facebook and Instagram into ‘cracking down’ on gun-related pages and posts and curbing the discussions therein — but I’m going to take a wild guess that the new self-policing standards Facebook ultimately unveiled today fell waaay short of the crackdown for which those anti-gun groups were really hoping. Here’s an excerpt from the Facebook announcement:
People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial. 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. 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.
Today, we are introducing a series of new educational and enforcement efforts for people discussing the private sale of regulated items:
-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.
We will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to specify “no background check required,” nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer. We have worked with a number of individuals and organizations on the development of these efforts, which will be implemented and enforced in the coming weeks. We are grateful in particular for the advice offered by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action, which helped us develop an approach for the private sale of firearms. …
In a nutshell, Facebook will restrict users under 18 from viewing posts/pages about firearms sales; will send messages to/require language of posters selling regulated goods about the relevant laws; and won’t allow posts promoting regulated goods to offer to deliberately flout those laws.
Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts is, at least publicly, taking this as a win for her team (and anyhow, they’ve got other super-duper important battles going on, like trying to convince Staples to ban firearms from their stores):
“We are happy that these companies listened to American mothers and we believe these changes are a major step toward making sure people who buy or sell guns on their platforms know the law, and follow it,” she said. “Moms are particularly pleased that Facebook will block minors from seeing posts about gun sales or trades, and that we can be confident that these social networks will be safe spaces for our kids.”
“There’s still so much to be done – by corporations, by Congress, and by local leaders – to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Moms have momentum and we’re moving the country toward a culture of gun safety one company, one legislator, one law at a time. We’re going to keep applying pressure to corporations and political leaders until they do more to reduce the gun violence that plagues our country. We’re not going away, and we will not stop until we’ve done everything we can to keep our children and communities safe.”
Let’s get real here: How much practical import will Facebook’s new reminders and restrictions actually have in accomplishing Moms Demand Action’s goals? Facebook is of course allowed to do whatever they like on that front, and I must say, none of the new rules sound at all unreasonable — but as the company said itself in their announcement, you can’t actually buy or sell things on Facebook or Instagram. They are simply a type of forum that helps like-minded people with similar interests and needs to connect with one another, as is the entire Internet. If some crazed villain is looking to obtain a gun illegally, I’d say I highly doubt that the inability to find one on Facebook is going to stop him.
The NRA certainly doesn’t seem too upset about the company’s new standards:
The NRA enjoys 150 times more support on Facebook than Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That’s why Bloomberg and the gun control groups he funds tried to pressure Facebook into shutting down discussion of Second Amendment issues on its social media platforms. Bloomberg failed. NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms. – Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA Institute for Legislative Action.
Again, this big melodramatic push doesn’t seem like it was as much about practical import as it was about making American gun culture as gauche, subversive, and inconvenient as possible. As per usual, I think Charles Cooke at NRO hit the nail on the head here:
What Moms Demand Action and their authoritarian friends are really trying to do is drive gun culture underground: away from polite society; away from lightly regulated and difficult-to-control social media; away from the mainstream and the traditional. They would herd it into a faraway place where it can be more easily denigrated and where its adherents can be more efficiently marginalized. Which is to say that the pressure Watts and company are exerting on Facebook isn’t about “safety” or “common sense” or “helping the children” so much as it is about ostracism. Watts knows full well that Americans are less responsive to her propaganda than they are to the vital philosophy that lies behind the Second Amendment. She know that many Americans have taken note of the reams of literature documenting that crime rates have fallen at the same time gun laws have loosened. She knows that the Internet is not her friend. She knows that, on the question of gun control at least, the little platoons have beaten the centralizers for years now.