A group of angry mothers and a powerful advocacy group have joined forces to demand that Facebook and Instagram get out of the gun business.
“Anybody can go to Facebook and Instagram and buy a gun online. We’re asking them to review their policies. They facilitate the sale of guns in the U.S.,” said Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a powerful advocacy group co-founded by billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
A related group, “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America,” launched the online campaign last month to demand that Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram do more to ensure that their platforms clamp down on members who are using the websites to buy and sell weapons. The group cited two cases where Facebook users were able to obtain guns, one of them a by a 15 year-old boy who purportedly brought the handgun to his Kentucky high school.
Facebook is listening. A spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that company representatives were in discussions with both groups. Facebook and Instragram strongly prohibit the sale or facilitation of weapons and explosives, the spokesperson said, who pointed out that Facebook is not an e-commerce site.
“You can’t buy things on Instagram and Facebook, nor can you promote the sale or use of weapons in advertising,” a Facebook spokesperson told us. “We encourage people who come across any illegal activity to report it to us.”
Sites like Craigslist have been used in the past to sell weapons, drugs, and sex-for-hire schemes.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was launched by Shannon Watts, an Indiana-based mother who started a Facebook page to demand that individual states clamp down on illicit gun sales. She started the page the day after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, Connecticut. Watts’s group merged with Bloomberg’s MAIG group last December. Watts was traveling and unavailable for comment.
Watts’ online petition to Facebook and Instagram has been signed by 91,000 people so far. The petition, in part, reads:
Facebook and Instagram are currently being used to facilitate sales and trades of firearms between private sellers. Most of these sales and trades can take place without background checks, meaning that there’s no way to stop a Facebook or Instagram user from potentially selling a gun to a felon, a domestic abuser or another dangerous person who would otherwise be prohibited from obtaining a gun. I think of Facebook and Instagram as places to share photos of my kids & family — not as an online market for guns.
Watts’ petition and Facebook page, and the fact that the company is meeting with Watts and others, indicate that big tech companies are listening to their customers, said Charlotte Hill, a spokeswoman for Change.org, an online social change platform with 60 million users. Hill, who is familiar with the petition, says Change.org has no official opinion on Watts’ initiative.
“Big companies in Silicon Valley have demonstrated in the past that they’re willing to listen to the masses,” Hill said, pointing to the case of a Facebook breast cancer survivor page that posted visceral images of women who had undergone mastectomies. Facebook took the photos down, and then later reversed course after cancer survivors launched an online petition.
The Facebook spokesperson said it was clear what its own policies are, and that Facebook has prohibited the sale and use of weapons since the outset. If content on the site is deemed be against company policy, then Facebook “will take action.”
The spokesperson pointed out that Facebook is having ongoing discussions with Watts and others, and reiterated that Facebook doesn’t sell items through its channels.
Told Facebook’s position was that it is not a commerce site, Lamb said “it’s one we’ve heard before.”
“We contacted Facebook a few weeks ago and started the petition, which has 90,000 signatures,” she said.
She called Facebook and Instagram an “unregulated online market for gun transactions. We’re asking them to review their policies.”
The fact that Bloomberg’s MAIG group has joined the fray is potent. Bloomberg co-found the anti-gun group with then Boston mayor Thomas Menino in 2006. It now counts the mayors of over 1,000 American cities as members with over a million followers.