Facebook soon may “unfriend” gun rights supporters and, some say, deal a blow to free speech.
The Venture Beat website reported that the social network is considering taking down all gun-related pages because of pressure from gun control groups.
“We are talking with a number of organizations around our policies on guns,” an unidentified Facebook spokesperson told The Los Angeles Times.
Two of the organizations are Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Mayors against Illegal Guns, which is bankrolled by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The groups think Facebook pages facilitate illegal gun sales.
“We recently began conversations with Facebook about what they can do to end the easy access to guns on its platform — because until they do, they are taking the risk that they are facilitating the illegal sale of guns on their social network,” the founder of the Moms’ group, Shannon Watts, said. “American moms are the No. 1 demographic on Facebook — and we don’t want guns sold into dangerous hands on the same site where we post our family photos.”
Gun Sales At Issue
Watts’ group has collected more than 94,000 signatures on a change.org petition aimed at Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg. The petition also targets another popular social media outlet: Instagram.
Facebook in the past has removed pictures of people holding guns in even non-threatening ways.
“Facebook and Instagram are currently being used to facilitate sales and trades of firearms between private sellers,” the petition reads. She claims the sites can be used to buy sell, and trade firearms without criminal background checks.
Watts petition was apparently motivated by a Venture Beat investigation that claimed a person could buy a gun illegally through Facebook in just 15 minutes. The website reported that a 15 year old in Kentucky had used Facebook to order a 9mm pistol that he brought to school.
But Guns Not Sold On Facebook
The problem with Watt’s petition is that guns are not actually sold on Facebook or Instagram. The story acknowledged that “the transactions don’t actually happen on Facebook” and that the meetings take place elsewhere. Facebook’s policies say ads “may not promote firearms” of any kind. A Facebook spokesman said, “You can’t buy things on Facebook and Instagram.”
The Kentucky boy who bought the gun didn’t buy it through Facebook. He simply made contact with the gun seller through a page called Plymouth Pickers. The unidentified teenager then had to drive to Ohio to pick up the weapon.
The article contained this quote from an unidentified “federal law enforcement officer” who said: “We look at Facebook and others as emerging threats for unlawful gun transactions in the United States.” The story also contained a blatantly false statement from a spokeswoman from Mayors against Illegal Guns.
“Anybody can go to Facebook and Instagram and buy a gun online,” Erika Soto Lamb claimed, making it sound as if a person could order a gun through Facebook, which is not true.
It is not clear how either Facebook or Instagram will respond to this petition. Facebook and Instagram are private companies who have the constitutional right to restrict the content of their social media anyway they want to. Gun control groups may have found a way to suppress gun owners’ speech without violating the First Amendment.