Recently Facebook banned private firearms
sales from unlicensed sellers, who typically don’t run background checks. Firearms and
Facebook, who knew? You knew if you were served up an ad in your
timeline. That’s because pretty much anyone can create a business Facebook page and sell
their wares. In this case firearms dealers – licensed
or unlicensed– use a detailed target search based on demographics and your online behaviors,
including purchases. And then they target you in an ad buy.
So, for instance, let’s say you liked a post about firearms,
ammunition, Ted Nugent, and you live in the US. You’d be one of 9,300,000 people a firearms
business could target. The business could then winnow that number down by other related
interests and purchases, your political affiliation, the state you live in – even your zip code.
For just $50 a day an advertiser could reach anywhere from an estimated 20,000 to 54,000
people. Now an advertiser is an advertiser, right?
So why would Facebook prohibit person-to-person firearms transactions and related firearms
advertising? The decision comes in the wake of President
Obama’s executive initiative requiring those selling guns—whether at a flea market or
online—to register as a firearms dealer and to perform background checks on gun purchasers.
Licensed dealers get a pass — by law they have to perform background checks, which are
pretty important since they prevent people with criminal backgrounds or those suffering
from a mental illness from arming themselves. Ah, but here’s the rub: Facebook won’t
seek out posts that violate the policy. They’ll only remove posts reported by its users. So
it’s up to the users to help create fence posts around unlicensed dealers.
Now, because this is essentially a numbers game, a savvy firearms private seller would
want to take advantage of the news stories circulating in social media about gun control
and serve up ads on those big media days. According to the New York Times, more guns
were sold in December 2015 than almost any other month in two decades, largely fueled
by President Obama’s announcement. Moreover, firearms sales spiked after the Sandy Hook
and San Bernardino mass shootings. It’s a good reminder that social media has
the potential to shape our worldviews, maybe even expand them. But if we stay within the
confines of our interests, the algorithms pick up on them and amplify them until our
online social interactions become nothing more than an echo chamber. We’ve got a lot going on here. We’ve got social media, we’ve got privacy, we’ve got gun control issues. What do you think about it. While you’re and about this week, make sure to drop in daily at now.Howstuffworks.com.