Senators Demand Facebook Do More to Block Gun Sales

May 16, 2019, 12:30 PM HST (Updated May 16, 2019, 12:30 PM)
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Earlier this month, Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and eight of their U.S. Senate colleagues sent a letter to Facebook to demand the social media giant do more to block gun sales facilitated on its social media enterprises, Facebook and Instagram. In their letter to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Senators asked for clarification and guidance from the company about its gun sales policies and how Facebook polices its own ban on gun sales and holds violators accountable.

The Senators wrote:

“When Facebook and Instagram banned the sales of firearms on its platforms in 2016, your company took a powerful stand against unlicensed gun sales, A 2017 study estimated that two percent of firearm owners obtained their most recent firearm without undergoing a background check. Another study found that the private market for gun sales ‘has long been recognized as a leading source of guns used in crimes.’ As an industry leader, Facebook ‘shut down a key avenue that criminals and minors used to arm themselves and put lives in danger.’ This is exactly the type of common sense gun policy that enjoys broad support with the American public.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply ban such sales. Effective monitoring and the suspension of accounts in violation of these policies is essential. As reported in Motherboard earlier this month, ‘Some Instagram accounts make clear in their bios and posts that they are interested in selling guns, but direct users away from the app and instead encourage them to use more secure communication methods to carry out a transaction.”

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In their letter, the senators referred to published reports highlighting how some Instagram users are able to bypass certain security features and platform violations. In some instances, users will explicitly state in their profile bios and posts that they are interested in selling guns, but refer their followers to other sites or apps in order to complete the transaction. In several of these cases, users will go unchecked and allowed to continue using the app, despite the clear violation of Instagram’s policies. The Senators also demanded responses to several of their questions into what proactive steps Facebook is taking to ensure the safety of its users and uphold its policy of no gun sales.

In addition to Sens.  Hirono and Menendez, the letter was cosigned by their colleagues Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

The full text of the letter is available here.

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