In January, Facebook and Instagram changed their policies around gun sales. Have they worked?
By Madeleine Thomas
(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Earlier this week, the New York Daily News reported that Micah Johnson — the former United States Army veteran who shot and killed five police officers in Dallas earlier this month — purchased an AK47 through Facebook in 2014.
Facebook announced early this year that it was banning private gun sales on both its own platform and on Instagram (which it owns), stating that the social media giant would rely on users to flag for removal any violating posts in groups, status updates, photographs, and the like. This came after the company changed its policies around gun sales in 2014, limiting posts about private gun sales to users over the age of 18, and prohibiting posts advertising “no background check required,” or cross-state transactions.
Responding to reports that Johnson purchased a weapon through the social media site, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) sent a letter to Facebook and Instagram CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Kevin Systrom casting doubt on the progress the media companies have made since adapting the new policies.
“As recently as today, my office was able to find postings for gun sales on Facebook using search ties like ‘AR15 Selling’ and ‘selling sig sauer,’ and on Instagram using search terms like ‘#Glock’ and ‘#PistolSale,’” Markey writes. “I urge you once again to take immediate measures to prevent illegal firearms sales through Facebook and Instagram.”
In his letter, Markey asks the companies for proof of any groups or profiles promoting gun sales that have been subsequently shut down this year. He also probes into how many requests the social media companies have received since 2014 by law enforcement requesting gun sales and records, and the numbers of Facebook and Instagram users who have still tried posting content promoting gun sales despite the new policy changes. Such gun sales, even if negotiated offline, may be circumventing or violating state and federal laws, Markey argues.
“Facebook and Instagram make available for purchase the very types of weapons used in the mass shootings in Orlando, Newtown, San Bernardino, among others,” he writes. “We want all communities, whether online or offline, to be safe for their members.”
The full text of the letter can be found here.