Business

Facebook mulling policy changes on gun-themed pages (exclusive)

Facebook may announce company policy changes for gun-related pages in mere days, VentureBeat has learned.

The social network has been under pressure from the powerful Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the Moms Demand Action civic group to ban gun-themed fan pages on the site.

“Talks are progressing. The discussions are ongoing; there have been positive developments,” sources close to the conversations told VentureBeat.

An extensive VentureBeat investigation last week revealed that adults and children were making arrangements to buy, sell, and trade guns through the many Facebook fan pages devoted to guns and the people who use them, sometimes in violation of federal and state gun laws.

Last October, a 15-year-old high school student in Kentucky bought a 9mm handgun from a man he met through a Facebook fan page. The teen was arrested when he was caught with the loaded pistol on the campus of Greenup County High School. The seller drove from Ohio to Kentucky to make the sale and was also arrested. The suspect told sheriff’s investigators he sold other guns to people he met on Facebook fan pages.

The two advocacy groups recently joined forces to pressure “Facebook [to] get out of the gun business.” Mayors Against Illegal Guns was cofounded by former NYC three-term mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg along with Boston’s then-mayor, Thomas Menino, in 2006. Mayors of more than 1,100 U.S. cities belong to the organization.

A Moms Demand Action petition on Change.org to prohibit gun sales on Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram has over 94,000 signatures. Comedian Sarah Silverman recently tweeted about the campaign, which is getting massive exposure through U.S. media outlets.

The petition is addressed to Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom and Facebook cofounder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg:

To:
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO
Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO
Your platforms unfortunately allow users to buy, sell, and trade firearms without requiring criminal background checks.Other online platforms including Craigslist, eBay, and Google+ have already prohibited these sales.I ask that you put an end to this completely unregulated social media gun show and prohibit gun sales from your platforms immediately.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

“Anybody can go to Facebook and Instagram and buy a gun online. We’re asking them to review their policies,” a spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns told VentureBeat last week.

Facebook, of course, is not an e-commerce site and doesn’t sell anything. Last week, a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat, “You can’t buy things on Instagram and Facebook, nor can you promote the sale or use of weapons in advertising. We encourage people who come across any illegal activity to report it to us.”

Users are still getting around the company’s stated user policies.

Google+, with about 450 millions users, also prohibits the sale of guns and many other items through the site.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment Monday.

Federal law enforcement sources told VentureBeat they view Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms “as emerging threats for unlawful gun transactions in the United States.”

More information:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 w... read more »

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