Okay, folks. Here’s an easy opportunity to take a stand, possibly make a difference, and make your world that much safer for anyone you care about.
By clicking this link and entering a U.S. zip code, you can join Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns in urging Facebook and Instagram (which Facebook bought in 2012) to shut down unregulated private gun sales on their sites.
“Unlike other online platforms—including Craigslist, Google+, and eBay—Facebook and Instagram allow people to post about private gun sales and trades, creating an unregulated online marketplace where felons, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people can easily obtain firearms,” wrote Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, in an e-blast earlier today.
“I think of Facebook and Instagram as places to share photos of my kids & family—not as an online market for guns,” added Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts. When the platform is used for less legitimate purposes, “there’s no way to know if the gun sales that begin on Facebook or Instagram end up with guns in dangerous hands.”
Because of loopholes in U.S. federal law, “many states don’t require background checks for private sales initiated on the Internet,” she explained. “And even where background checks are required, Facebook and Instagram can’t guarantee their users are following the law.”
The Bigger Picture: Misuse of Social Media
The Facebook/Instagram loophole is important in its own right, but it’s also the tip of a bigger iceberg.
Late last year, Mayors Against Illegal Guns reported that unlicensed sellers are “flooding the Internet with guns.” Although the existing system of criminal background checks “has worked well and has unquestionably saved many lives” since it was introduced in 1998, the law permits “private sales” by dealers who don’t hold federal licenses.
“Criminals and other barred purchasers know this loophole well, and they exploit it every day, avoiding licensed dealers and seeking out unlicensed sellers instead,” the mayors’ report stated. “Tens of thousands of criminals and other illegal buyers were obtaining firearms from private sellers on a single website—Armslist.com—every year.”
So just to be clear: this isn’t a fight about U.S. Second Amendment rights (however you interpret the Second Amendment). It’s about gun sales that are already illegal in the U.S., even under laws that most people in most industrialized countries consider incredibly lax.
And it means social platforms—best used to build online relationships and communities of interest, happily and acceptably used to distribute Grumpy Cat memes or “share photos of my kids & family”—are being subverted for a class of illegal products that cause death, destruction, and grief when used as directed.
Standing Our Ground
I’m guessing it’ll take a longer campaign to control or shut down Armslist.com. Facebook and Instagram may be a quicker win. Watts has contacted Facebook, received a reply, rejected their claim that they can’t bar private sales on a platform that isn’t set up for e-commerce, and mobilized her network to respond.
So this is a moment when we may be able to use social media to make social media better. If you rely on social platforms to do your work, serve your clients, or just keep in touch with friends and family, this is an important moment to click the link and have your say.