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New Facebook policy targets guns, other regulated items

In the wake of vocal demands that it take action against users promoting gun sales, Facebook just announced new policies around content about firearms and other regulated products. One of the activist groups Facebook worked with, Moms Demand Action, applauded the social media service and its app Instagram for taking “significant steps to block potentially illegal firearm sales through their platforms.”

This past December, the Moms teamed up with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan national coalition founded by former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Menino, “to form the largest gun violence prevention organization in the US,” according to Moms Demand Action. They reportedly pulled together 230,000 supporters to call on the social media services to crack down on promotion of gun sales. Other experts Facebook worked with on this were New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions and Sandy Hook Promise.

Parents may notice that protection of users under 18 is a key element in the steps Facebook said it will take:

  • Behind the site: When it receives a report about “a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item,” FB will “limit access to that post to people over the age of 18″ and “send a message to that person reminding him or her to comply with relevant laws and regulations.”
  • For Page owners: FB “will require Pages that are primarily used by people to promote the private sale of commonly regulated goods or services to include language that clearly reminds people of the importance of understanding and complying with relevant laws and regulations, and limit access to people over the age of 18 or older if required by applicable law.”
  • On Instagram: FB “will provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.”
  • No lawbreakers: FB “will not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law. For example, private sellers of firearms in the U.S. will not be permitted to specify ‘no background check required,’ nor can they offer to transact across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.”

This is just one example of the tight spot today’s user-driven media companies find themselves in. They want – are really designed to be – free marketplaces of ideas, where there are always activists on at least two sides of every issue. They also want to maximize use without hosting use that represents or promotes off-site illegal activity. The only thing that’s certain in this early phase of a new media era is that it’s a complicated, messy experiment that’s always urgent, organically crowd-sourced and happening in a global fishbowl. That’s really hard and ultimately really good.

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Disclosure: I’m co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit organization that receives financial support from a number of Internet and media companies, including Facebook, Google, Trend Micro and Yahoo.

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