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Facebook shakes up gun policy

Facebook introduced a set of rules for gun sellers on its platform and the photo-sharing service Instagram aimed at education and enforcement.
A \"Like\" icon at the Facebook main campus in Menlo Park, California.
A \"Like\" icon at the Facebook main campus in Menlo Park, California.

Users "disliked" Facebook's policy on gun posts, and the social-networking platform listened.

The tech giant on Wednesday introduced a set of rules for gun sellers on its platform and the photo-sharing service Instagram aimed at education and enforcement. The company will now remove posts from vendors that thwart gun laws, restrict minors from viewing pages that sell or trade firearms, and raise awareness to possible vendors that such weapons are often regulated by law in certain areas of the country.

"When people connect through our services, we want them to be able to communicate freely," said Monika Bickert, leader of global policy management at Facebook, during a press call on Wednesday. "We also want them to be in a safe and responsible environment."

Facebook employees will monitor content, but the company also hopes the new policies will encourage users to flag unsavory posts. Law enforcement officials and advocacy groups will have a pipeline to report posts that promote illegal activity. The author of a deleted post will then receive educational material during the next log-on session. And administrators for pages promoting the sale of firearms will be required to include the information in their "About" sections.

And on Instagram, a Facebook-owned service, users will be required to acknowledge relevant, applicable laws before seeing search results using a hashtag related to gun sales or trades.

Facebook -- the dominant social-networking platform, which boasts 1.3 billion users -- will maintain its restrictions on advertisements that promote the sale of weapons, ammunition, or explosives. It will also continue to relay information to law enforcement officials about gun-related posts that might pose a threat to society.

The company's decision came a month after the pro-gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America launched a campaign seeking to highlight the dangers of easy access to firearms -- without passing background checks -- in what its members called "an unregulated marketplace" on Facebook and Instagram.

Related: Moms give Facebook's gun policy a 'thumbs down'

More than 230,000 people signed a petition on behalf of the group's effort.

"Moms have momentum, and we're moving the country toward a culture of gun safety one company, one legislator, one law at a time," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, who created the group on Facebook the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. "We're not going away, and we will not stop until we've done everything we can to keep our children and communities safe."

Some advocates posting to the "Guns for Sale" Facebook group have since created their own petitions asking the company to "stay fair" and urging the company: "Don't cave in to anti-gun demands."

Gun control has been a tough sell on Capitol Hill -- even in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting. A bipartisan bill to expand background checks failed in the Senate last spring. The most recent action taken by lawmakers at the federal level came in November 1993 when former President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law, thus requiring a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun purchases. The legislation, however, does not apply to unlicensed private sellers.

But some states continue to strengthen existing gun laws. Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., at least partially extended the background check requirement to many non-dealer sales.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino led the creation of Mayors Against Illegal Guns in April 2006 in an attempt to stop the flow of illegal guns in the country. It has since developed into a national bipartisan coalition with mayors from 43 states and more than 1 million supporters.

Moms Demand Action and the mayors' group merged last December in a larger effort to support gun control in the U.S. Facebook's change in policy is the second major victory for Moms Demand Action, which successfully applied pressure to Starbucks to change its rules allowing customers to openly carry firearms on store premises.

Related: Starbucks grinds open-carry gun policy to a halt

"Facebook went from not fully understanding this problem in the course of just a matter of weeks to actually taking an affirmative step that will actually save lives," said John Feinblatt, chairman of the mayors' group. "And as importantly, send a cultural signal to Congress, to state capitals, to other online platforms that it's the job of all of take steps that we know will save lives."