Facebook has placed a temporary ban on advertisements of "weapon accessories and protective equipment" until Friday. The social media company made the announcement on Friday ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.
"We are banning ads that promote weapon accessories and protective equipment in the US at least through January 22, out of an abundance of caution," the company wrote in a blog post. "We already prohibit ads for weapons, ammunition and weapon enhancements like silencers. But we will now also prohibit ads for accessories such as gun safes, vests and gun holsters in the US."
The news follows the Capitol riot that occurred on Jan. 6. Five people died as a result from the violence.
Facebook's move comes after BuzzFeed News published an article saying the social media company was pairing ads for gun holsters, body armor and other "military-related paraphernalia" with users who engaged with content about "election misinformation and news about the attempted coup at the Capitol."
The left-leaning Tech Transparency Project first noticed the ads and brought them to the attention of BuzzFeed. That article reportedly caused Facebook to change their ad policies, at least for the time being.
In the aftermath of an attempted insurrection by President Donald Trump’s supporters last week at the US Capitol building, Facebook has served up ads for defense products to accounts that follow extremist content, according to the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit watchdog group. Those ads — which include New Year’s specials for specialized body armor plates, rifle enhancements, and shooting targets — were all delivered to a TTP Facebook account used to monitor right-wing content that could incite violence.
These ads for tactical gear, which were flagged internally by employees as potentially problematic, show Facebook has been profiting from content that amplifies political and cultural discord in the US.
"Facebook has spent years facilitating fringe voices who use the platform to organize and amplify calls for violence,” said TTP Director Katie Paul. “As if that weren't enough, Facebook's advertising microtargeting is directing domestic extremists toward weapons accessories and armor that can make their militarized efforts more effective, all while Facebook profits."
The TTP account does not post or like any of the content Facebook delivers to it, though Paul does scroll through the feed and follows links for her research. While the account does not follow the pages of Donald Trump or his son Donald Trump Jr., Facebook deemed those two figures to be part of the account’s “interest categories,” which also include the “Republican Party (United States),” “American football,” and “Politics.” Facebook users do not specify their interest categories, which are determined by the social network’s algorithms based on a person’s on-platform activity.
Paul showed BuzzFeed News a live video of the activity on the account’s feed on Wednesday morning.
In the News Feed, an ad for “high-quality American-made holsters” ran above a post falsely claiming that the recent presidential election had been stolen. The ad was targeted to people over the age of 18 whose primary location is the US, according to a Facebook informational panel. A different video ad for a flashlight and laser pointer that could be attached to a semiautomatic rifle was shown next to a post from a group that promotes booglaoo content. Members of the boogaloo movement, a loose network of anti-government extremists who advocate for civil war, have previously been charged with killing law enforcement officers.
While Facebook prohibits ads for firearm sales and gun modifications, advertisers are allowed to use the platform and its audience-targeting capabilities to sell weapon accessories. The advertised products seen by BuzzFeed News included gun belts, steel targets, and body armor.
Mark Oliva, the Director of Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), slammed Facebook's decision, saying the social media platform is actively pushing an anti-gun agenda, despite a record number of new gun owners entering the scene.
"This development is also out of step with America’s appetite for firearm ownership. Over 21 million background checks were conducted for the sale of a gun in 2020, and NSSF estimates that over 8.4 million of those were bought by first-time buyers," Oliva said in a statement to Townhall.
Oliva brought up a valid point: under Facebook's new policy, something like a gun safe would not be promoted because it's a firearm accessory.
"Those new owners need to know their safe storage options in the home," Olivia said.
But Facebook has priors when it comes to this kind of thing.
"Sadly, this is not surprising. Facebook previously banned an ad for American flags by a firearm retailer, simply because they were in the business of selling guns in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations," Oliva explained. "NSSF has long argued that social media is the modern-day public square. The companies that benefit from legal protections to foster the free exchange of ideas are now using that to exercise unfettered authority to decide which ideas are acceptable for the American public."
The entire premise of Facebook's move is based on assumption. TPP automatically assumes that:
1) Every conservative, gun-loving, Trump-supporting Republican agrees with the riots that took place at the Capitol.
That's the furthest thing from the truth. The majority of Americans look at what happened and believe it was a disservice, not only to our country but to the conservative movement as a whole.
2) Those who love the Second Amendment and own firearms are going to use those for harm.
The truth is most Americans have a gun for self-protection, hunting or shooting sports. None of us want to have to use them for self-defense. In fact, most of us pray we never do. But if we're threatened or in harm's way, it's a tool we can use. The goal isn't to go out and search for trouble. The goal is to have a firearm should trouble come knocking at the door.
3) "Military-related paraphernalia" translates to riots.
Holsters are a very common item for people who own firearms to have. Gun owners use holsters to carry firearms in a safe and effective manner. Gun belts hold the added weight of a firearm. And steel targets are used for shooting competitions, matches and even training for law enforcement agencies and self-defense classes.
4) Everyone who partakes in safe and responsible gun ownership is a right-wing nut preparing for a dooms day scenario.
A large portion of gun owners who enjoy tactical gear are actually military or veterans who still actively train for a worst-case scenario. Many of these men and women go on to serve in the reserves, join law enforcement agencies, or work as private security guards. Such individuals need to actively train to better keep others safe.