Guns, gun parts and ammunition are widely available for sale on Facebook and Instagram, according to new research, experts say Meta is not doing enough to prevent deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands .
Since 2016, the meta policy prohibits the “sale or use of weapons, ammunition or explosives” between individuals, including “firearm parts”. However, research by Media Matters for America, a non-profit technology watchdog group, shows that Instagram and Facebook users can purchase materials from unregulated sources to build powerful automatic weapons with just a few clicks.
Many of these listings are for 3D-printed or DIY gun kits, also known as “ghost guns,” which allow users to build weapons at home without performing background checks. These weapons are a growing problem in the United States, with 20,000 suspected ghost weapons recovered in criminal investigations in 2021, a tenfold increase from 2016.
Media Matters research identified more than 40 active listings in the US on Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Shopping that currently sell gun parts, accessories and ammunition – including parts to make unregistered guns at home.
Gun parts for sale included pad assemblies, shoulder stocks, charging handles and rail systems – all modifications to make the guns more deadly. He also identified lists for almost every part needed to build an AR-15, the automatic weapon used in a number of mass shootings, including the deadly attack on an elementary school in Uvalde, Australia. Texas.
While the Media Matter study focused on public listings, other researchers looked at sales made through private groups, where they say gun sales are prevalent.
A recent study by advocacy group Coalition for a Safer Web found that private Facebook groups with thousands of members are used to sell and trade fully functional and often unregulated weapons – and in some cases the algorithm of the platform has recommended such products and groups. to users.
“This is just another example of Facebook’s lax terms of service permitting the marketing, promotion and sale of dangerous weapons, including 3D-printed firearms,” said Eric Feinberg, author of the Coalition For A Safer Web study.
Feinberg’s study found dozens of advertisements within private groups for weapons, including handguns, magazines and ammunition, and gun parts to automate existing guns to make them more deadly.
Ashley Settle, a spokeswoman for Meta, said that while the sale of firearms between individuals is prohibited on Facebook and Instagram, the posting or promotion of firearms content is authorized by “legitimate retailers “. The company distinguishes between these messages and enforces the policies through its trade review system, which is largely automated.
She said that since the Media Matters report was not shared with the company, she “cannot address the specifics” but “any sale of firearms or firearm parts is a violation. clear of our trade policies”.
“We take action if we detect – or are made aware of – anyone attempting to circumvent this policy, including banning the seller from our platforms and applying sanctions to their account,” she said.
Both reports come days after the Washington Post revealed that although Facebook prohibits the sale of weapons, it only bans a user from the platform if they have violated the policy 10 times – a more lenient enforcement policy than those relating to violations such as calling for violence or promoting terrorism, which trigger a ban after an offence.
Meta’s failure to enforce its policies on gun sales directly fuels violence and the recruitment of extremists, said Shannon Watts, founder of gun advocacy group Moms Demand Action.
“Guns have become a recruiting tool and an organizing principle for the far right to stoke fear and recruit new members,” she said. “Facebook not only offers an opening for this radicalization to happen, their ’10 shots’ rule on gun sales is incredibly dangerous. It’s high time social media companies stop pointing fingers elsewhere and actually take responsibility for the dangers that arise on their platforms.
Facebook algorithms have been shown to contribute to radicalization in the past, with the company own internal research stating that “64% of all memberships in extremist groups are due to our recommendation tools”. The platform has become a one-stop shop for radicalization and access to deadly weapons, said Ben Wyskida, spokesperson for the Meta watchdog group, the Real Facebook Oversight Board.
“Facebook has its finger on the trigger,” he said. “Facebook is literally going to get someone killed rather than shutting down or fixing features that are profitable but encourage extremism. This should be fully investigated and stopped.