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Backlash: Facebook's gun decision hit by anti-gun group as NRA wins

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Gun Control,Facebook,Instagram,Michael Bloomberg

They did it again.

In a battle over the ability to talk guns and make sales on Facebook with anti-gun advocates like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the National Rifle Association, with its 3 million Facebook supporters, is attempting to temper liberal efforts to rid the site of gun-themed pages.

Instead, Facebook on Wednesday announced a compromise that will continue to allow gun talk and sales, but will restrict access to users 18 and older. It will also be on the lookout for sales of illegal guns, which the NRA doesn’t want sold either.

“People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial. In some cases they promote these products for sale or use, even though it's not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram. While we've recently heard specific concerns from people about offers for the private sales of firearms, this is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals' desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere,” said Facebook’s Monika Bickert, head of global policy management.

Facebook had been under pressure to greatly curb gun talk, but in the end just decided to set up some new rules. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence condemned Facebook's decision.

"Under pressure from the Brady Campaign and our partners, Facebook released an updated gun policy today. Some will call this a victory; we strongly disagree.

"Facebook’s new policy continues to allow unlicensed sellers to advertise guns for sale – a policy we have told Facebook makes it far too easy for dangerous people to buy guns without a Brady background check," said Brady.

The NRA was quick to give their Facebook supporters credit in blocking efforts like those of MAIG, which has just 20,758 “likes” on the popular social network.

“The NRA enjoys 150 times more support on Facebook than Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That’s why Bloomberg and the gun control groups he funds tried to pressure Facebook into shutting down discussion of Second Amendment issues on its social media platforms. Bloomberg failed,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.

“NRA members and our supporters will continue to have a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of their Second Amendment freedoms,” added Cox in a statement.

Below is Facebook’s statement. It doesn't specifically mention the NRA, but does thank anti-gun groups for their “advice.”

Facebook, Instagram Announce New Educational and Enforcement Measures for Commercial Activity

March 05, 2014

Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management

Facebook, at its heart, is about helping people connect and communicate. Because of the diversity of people and cultures on our services, we know that people sometimes post or share things that may be controversial or objectionable. We work hard to find a balance between enabling people to express themselves about topics that are important to them, and creating an environment that is safe and respectful.

This balance is important to how we view commercial activity on Facebook or Instagram. We have strict rules about how businesses can use our advertising tools. For example, we do not permit advertising for illegal drugs, tobacco products, prescription pharmaceuticals, weapons, and several other products and services, and restrict advertising for products such as alcohol, adult products, and gaming. In all cases, we have systems in place to review and remove advertising that violates our policies, is false, deceptive, or misleading.

Of course, most of our tools are free to use, and many people and organizations use them to establish a presence on Facebook, including to promote commercial transactions. While people can't use our services to actually sell things to each other, they can set up a Page or make an occasional post to their Timeline to find a roommate, sell a home, or solicit contributions for a church or nonprofit organization. Just like posting on a bulletin board at a supermarket or community center, these activities may be considered commercial, but we treat this type of sharing like any other type of sharing on our services - and we respond to reports when something violates our Community Standards.

People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial. In some cases they promote these products for sale or use, even though it's not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram. While we've recently heard specific concerns from people about offers for the private sales of firearms, this is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals' desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere.

Today, we are introducing a series of new educational and enforcement efforts for people discussing the private sale of regulated items:

Any time we receive a report on Facebook about a post promoting the private sale of a commonly regulated item, we will send a message to that person reminding him or her to comply with relevant laws and regulations. We will also limit access to that post to people over the age of 18.

We 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.

We will provide special in-app education on Instagram for those who search for sales or promotions of firearms.

We 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. We have worked with a number of individuals and organizations on the development of these efforts, which will be implemented and enforced in the coming weeks. We are grateful in particular for the advice offered by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action, which helped us develop an approach for the private sale of firearms. We also appreciate the feedback provided by the Facebook Safety Advisory Board.

As always, we encourage people who see anything that violates our policies to report it to us using the tools found throughout our services. Facebook and Instagram will continue to remove content, and notify law enforcement where appropriate, when we are notified about things shared on our services that suggest a direct, credible risk to others’ safety. We will also continue to strictly enforce our advertising policies.

We believe these collective efforts represent the right approach in balancing people's desire to express themselves while promoting a safe, responsible community.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.