Facebook has banned the private sale of guns on their website. More specifically, they have curtailed their users’ freedom to communicate as they wish when it comes to soliciting private, offline sales of firearms.
The free market is often characterized as some force independent of the individuals in a society, whereby the metaphorical “invisible hand” of the market is taken literally only to be either lifted on high to the heavens or damned down to the depths of hell. However, the free market is fundamentally a natural and spontaneous phenomenon, the product of individual human action but not human design. Put simply, the free market is free people trading. If we are, in fact, a free and peaceful people (and there are of course plenty of reasons to question this presupposition), then the free market is literally the dynamic product of our voluntary, individual actions. Give people freedom–the freedom to think as they wish, speak as they wish, and communicate with whom they wish–and you are bound to see them trading their ideas and the fruits of their labor.
With this in mind, Facebook has certainly provided a forum for the free exchange of ideas. The platform is not a totally free-wheeling market place of ideas, but the nexus of exchange created by Facebook users each day provides us with troves of information. How could one not look at this hoard of human capital without seeing the immense opportunities for profitable exchange? Such is what many buyers and sellers of guns must have seen. If we are allowed to share our political opinions, cat videos, new age hokum, invectives, personal milestones, selfies, and so much more on the Book of Faces, why can we not share information about the firearms we wish to buy and sell?
The New York Times reports:
Facebook already prohibits people from offering marijuana, pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs for sale, and the company said on Friday that it was updating its policy to include guns. The ban applies to private, person-to-person sales of guns. Licensed gun dealers and gun clubs can still maintain Facebook pages and post on Instagram.
Although Facebook was not directly involved in gun sales, it has served as a forum for gun sales to be negotiated, without people having to undergo background checks. The social network, with 1.6 billion monthly visitors, had become one of the world’s largest marketplaces for guns and was increasingly evolving into an e-commerce site where it could facilitate transactions of goods.
Again, where there is the free exchange of ideas there will be commerce to “facilitate” the “transaction of goods.” This should be of little surprise to anyone, especially the owners of Facebook. Being a private entity, Facebook has the right to set its own rules, but the servility of the company to do the government’s bidding absent any legal enforcement is a bit unsettling.
As far as I know, private person-to-person gun sales are still legal at the federal level, and to boot, most online gun sales are done through licensed FFL dealers. Thus, Facebook’s policy may prove to be little more than symbolic:
Facebook said it would rely on its vast network of users to report any violations of the new rules, and would remove any post that violated the policy. Beyond that, the company said it could ban users or severely limit the ways they post on Facebook, depending on the type and severity of past violations. If the company believed someone’s life was in danger, Facebook would work with law enforcement on the situation.
Facebook will also rely on user reports of private gun sales that occur between members via Facebook Messenger, the company’s private messaging service. Facebook does not scan the content of those messages.
So, “see something, say something” is the policy.
I don’t agree with policy change, but at least, this is being done in a “voluntary” manner, which begs the question–if Facebook and other private companies are happy to self-regulate, why do we need the government enforcing such policies at all?