Facebook moves to curb illegal gun sales through its site

On Wednesday, Facebook (s fb) made a big change in the way that it manages content — and its approach to gun control: it announced via blog post that it would take measures to curb illegal gun sales Through Facebook and Instagram.

Gun sales are actually a thriving subsection of Facebook — gun enthusiasts show off their collections and even offer up their wares for sale (whether it’s through retail or personal ownership). But new rules, enforceable on both Facebook and Instagram, seek to stop illegal sales, ones that circumvent federal law and are believed to be responsible for many guns on the streets today.

The measures are pretty cut and dry:

  • Users who post a photo of a “commonly regulated item” (which, in this case includes guns, but could be, say, marijuana for sale posted by a legal dispensary) will get a message by Facebook to remind them to comply with federal law.
  • Posts that market the sales of those items will be restricted to users under the age of 18, and, when applicable, entire pages may be blocked from view of teens.
  • All posts that offer to sidestep federal laws will be removed, and authorities could be notified.

While these measures seem proactive — enough, according to the New York Times, to rile up Second Amendment defenders — they’re still difficult to execute in practice. Facebook doesn’t have the time or the resources to take down every piece offensive material that is outside of its Terms of Service (think groups that promote domestic abuse or anorexia) or accurately leave superficially questionable content alone (breast self-exam instructions from a women’s group). In the case of gun sale, distribution and ownership, there’s an even blurrier line — peer-to-peer sales of guns are legal, provided those guns are not sold across state lines, without a background check or without the necessary paperwork. Facebook will have to take the extra time to see if illegal activity is actually occurring before taking content down, or risk anger from the gun lobby.

It’s clear that Facebook is trying to do the “right” thing by curbing illegal sales of guns on its platform, but words are just words. If the company cannot successfully execute these new measures, they’re likely to do more harm than good from activists who buck against Facebook’s censorship. Additionally, it’s hard to know if it’s enough to stop users from selling guns on Facebook, or it it’ll just push illegal deals further underground into private messages or chats.