Google+ is not the place to make connections for buying and selling guns.
Robust automation tools and other enforcement mechanisms means Google+ users are flagged almost immediately for violating policy terms set out by the Mountain View, Calif.-based technology giant.
A Google spokesperson made it clear to VentureBeat that the company enforces policy strictly, arguably in contrast to other social media platforms that have similar rules in place for users to routinely violate — in some cases with impunity.
Indeed, an extensive VentureBeat investigation revealed that buyers and sellers of guns were using dozens of Facebook pages to arrange firearm sales and trades, a clear violation of Facebook’s terms of service.
In at least one case, a 15 year-old high school student in Greenup County, Kentucky bought an unlicensed 9mm handgun from a man he met on a Facebook gun page. The teen was arrested after he took the handgun to school last October.
Because the seller crossed state lines to sell the minor the gun, the case has now been turned over to the feds.
During the investigation, the seller also admitted to sheriff’s investigators that he used Facebook on multiple occasions to sell guns to people he met through the social media’s fan pages dedicated to weapons.
A Google source told VentureBeat, “We have a variety of ways we enforce this policy, including automation in our system and a robust tool for users to report abuse for every kind of sharable content on G+.”
This includes, according to the Google source, the comments, pages, photos, and profiles sections. Google’s policy, in part, under the Regulated Goods and Services banner, is here (emphasis added):
“While Google+ is a place to discuss many topics, our service is not ready to support the marketing of any regulated products at this time. Do not facilitate the promotion or sale of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco, fireworks, weapons, or health/medical devices. We may also remove content that offers or promotes the sale of substances that mimic the effects of illegal or regulated drugs. Discussion of gambling and gaming strategy is permitted, but do not distribute content that facilitates actual gambling, including online casinos, sports betting, or lotteries. Further, we may not allow verification of local Google+ pages for certain products and services such as escort services or other regulated goods.”
In fact, it took a Venture Beat reporter and colleague 15 minutes to arrange the purchase of a 7mm rifle and 90 rounds of ammunition from a man named Dave on the Facebook “Firearms Only Alamogordo” fan page. The page is moderated by a user who identified himself as an active member of the U.S. Air Force.
Many or most of these gun transactions are taking place without required background checks.
Federal law enforcement sources told VentureBeat, “We look at Facebook and others as emerging threats for unlawful gun transactions in the United States.”
One of the biggest seizures of guns in the history of New York City law enforcement occurred last year when NYPD investigators were tipped to aspiring rapper Matthew Best’s Instagram feed. In the feed, Best posted pictures of guns and cash. More than 250 weapons, including semi-automatic rifles and handguns, were seized, and police arrested 19 people. Police said those arrested were buying guns in the South and transporting them to New York for sale on the streets.
Facebook is under tremendous pressure by the powerful, bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns group and its sister organization, Moms Demand Action, to alter policies related to its gun-themed fan pages, which are largely moderated by users. The mayors’ group was co-founded by billionaire and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Indeed, a petition launched on Change.org by Moms Demand Action called “Prohibit gun sales on Facebook & Instagram immediately” now has 85,000 signatures.
A spokesperson for Mayors Against Illegal Guns told VentureBeat that talks between Facebook and the organization were proceeding this week.