Facebook policy changes are minor, but valid

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In October of last year, a 15-year-old Kentucky boy showed off a fully loaded 9mm handgun to classmates at a high school football game. He didn’t steal it; he bought it on Facebook.

The social media site has become a haven for minors, felons and bad guys who want to illegally obtain a gun. Facebook recently announced it would take up a series of measures designed to curb illegal gun sales on its site and on Instagram.

This move is both reasonable and socially responsible.

Facebook will continue to allow its users to sell guns through public groups, as long as they are done so in a legal manner. In a press release issued last week, the company detailed three new measures they would use on the site.

Anytime a report is received about a gun sale post, a message will be sent to that user to serve as a reminder to comply with relevant laws. Facebook will also then prevent minors from viewing that post.

Groups on the site set up around buying and selling firearms will be required to display a disclaimer. Facebook will also prevent users under 18 from being able to join such groups.

Finally, users will not be allowed to post gun offers that indicate a willingness to break the law.

In essence, Facebook stated that it will follow the law and expects its users to do the same. The policy is very underwhelming, though special interest groups on both sides of the issue would have their backers believe it’s somehow an important battle.

It isn’t.

Facebook is merely absolving itself of any future liability, such as in the case of the 15-year-old. It’s a smart business move because both sides believe they’ve won. On one side, there are gun control advocates such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. And on the other side is the National Rifle Association. Both sides released statements claiming victory over the matter. Rather than propagate fear mongering used by either side, it’s important to look solely at the facts.

The policy change does not infringe upon the right to free speech. As far as Facebook is concerned, users agree to the website’s terms of service in order to use the product. Americans are free to say whatever they like, Facebook users are limited to the terms they agreed to when they joined up. Furthermore, users are just as free to stop using Facebook and use other social networking sites like Google Plus.

The changes will not necessarily have a significant impact on illegal gun sales conducted through the site. Facebook has more than 1 billion monthly active users around the world. To catch all illegal activity would require more staff and better technology. The new measures might catch some people, but it won’t catch everyone. Even then, it’s still better to stop a small number of criminals than none at all.

The new measures don’t prevent legal gun owners from using the site to legally buy and sell firearms. Just as Facebook does not infringe upon free speech, it also doesn’t infringe upon anyone’s right to own guns or to legally sell them. Again, if a person wants to use Facebook, that person must abide by Facebook’s rules.

In an investigative piece by the website VentureBeat, a reporter only needed 15 minutes to arrange a purchase of a semiautomatic 7mm rifle and ammunition from a seller on Facebook. In a series of text messages, the seller said he did not need to see an ID from the reporter. That reporter could have been a felon or a minor. The seller didn’t care as long as the money was good.

Overall, Facebook’s policy change will change things for the better, but not by much. It is neither as good or as bad as special interest groups claim. Rather than listen to a spokesperson with an agenda, it might be best for users to read the policy change for themselves.

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