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Facebook enforces ban on gun sales with 10-strikes-and-you’re-out policy

Rifles hanging on a gun rack.

Getty Images | artas

People who buy or sell guns on Facebook can violate the social network’s ban on gun purchases 10 times before they’re kicked off the service, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Facebook’s 10-strikes rule is detailed in “internal guidance obtained by The Washington Post,” the article said:

The policy, which has not previously been reported, is much more lenient than for users who post child pornography, which is illegal, or a terrorist image on Facebook, which prompts immediate removal from the platform.

A separate five-strikes policy extends even to gun sellers and purchasers who actively call for violence or praise a known dangerous organization, according to the documents.

The policy apparently used to be even more lenient. “Until 2020, the strike threshold for guns was more than 10,” the Post wrote, citing anonymous sources. “That threshold seemed ‘too high’ to many employees, who argued to reduce it to 10 strikes or lower.”

Facebook banned gun sales in 2016. Its gun policy says the “purchase, sale, or trade of firearms, ammunition, and explosives between private individuals isn’t allowed on Facebook.”

Facebook defends strike policy

We contacted Facebook today and will update the article if we get a response. But the company did not dispute the existence of the 10-strikes rule, according to the Post.

“Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement that the company quickly removes posts that violate its policy prohibiting gun sales and imposes increasingly severe penalties for repeat rule-breakers, including permanent account suspensions,” the Post article said.

Stone was quoted as saying, “If we identify any serious violations that have the potential for real-world harm, we don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement. The reality is that nearly 90 percent of people who get a strike for violating our firearms policy accrue less than two because their violations are inadvertent and once we inform them about our policies, they don’t violate them again.”

Facebook uses the strike system to impose a tiered set of punishments for various types of violations, with warnings escalating to temporary restrictions on posting content as a user piles up more strikes.

Sellers still disguise sales by listing “gun cases”

A Bloomberg article published after the recent Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, mass shootings said that sellers often disguise gun sales by listing them as “gun cases.” Journalist Parmy Olson wrote:

This week I reached out to 10 sellers in Texas and Georgia whose listings hinted their title was a pretense: The price was an implausible $1, or they would put the word “case” in quotation marks, or implored buyers to “PM me for details” to find out “what’s inside.”

Five of the sellers replied with photos or details of semi-automatic rifles or pistols made by brands like Glock Ges m.b.H. and Sturm, Ruger & Co. One was a federally licensed gun dealer who had started selling on [Facebook] Marketplace last year. There were no similar listings that I saw on competing sites like eBay and Craigslist.

That ruse has continued for years despite Democratic senators calling on Facebook in September 2019 to crack down on the practice. “Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply announce a ban on firearm sales through Facebook. Effective monitoring and the suspension of accounts in violation of these policies is essential,” the senators told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the time.

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