Is Facebook blocking posts about guns?

Phil Briggs
March 02, 2018 - 3:59 pm
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Last week, I went to a gun range and wrote a story about firing an AR-15. But promoting it on Facebook didn’t go as planned.

All things considered, the story was not that exciting. I rented a rifle, some range time and went through a small box of ammo. Having never shot the AR before (my experience limited to shot guns and a couple handguns) I wrote an unbiased look at the weapon many people want to ban. I concluded that while all guns are deadly, the AR I fired, didn't feel grossly over powerful like the illegitimate killing machine portrayed in the news.  

We published the story on a Wednesday.  By the weekend, we wanted to reach a few more people, so we did what many media companies do- pay to “Boost” the post.

Within an hour of clicking to confirm our payment, I received the following message, informing me that my "ad" had been rejected.

Confused by the rejection, I chose to appeal.  My explanation was brief but to the point, “I’m a journalist for a website, who wrote an article about firing a rifle at a safe, state approved, rifle range. The business tagged was the story location and it is a RENTAL facility. No gun sales are advertised or promoted within this article.”

And within a few hours, another message from Facebook informing me that the appeal was denied.  

I clicked the link provided to review the rules, which were considered when making both rejections.

Facebook rules are clear, “Ads, must not promote the sale or use of weapons ammunition or explosives”.  However, our article was published by a news/media organization and our promoted content is an article, not an advertisement.  Certainly this falls in line with the first exception noted in their rules: “Blogs or groups connecting people with weapons-related interests, as long as the service does not lead to sale of these products.”

But there was no appeal left.  The article, while still posted to our site, was blocked from further promotion- even promotions we were willing to pay for.

Unhappy and not satisfied with their decision, I emailed an interview request to their Media Relations office. 

A few days later I received an email from a Facebook spokeperson, who agreed to answer my questions on background. (An interview without revealing the source's name) 

FB: “I had my team go back and review your article ... and it turns out it does not actually violate our policy. So you can re-activate your promotion any time.

Me: Was Facebook cracking down on gun content in light of the recent tragic school shooting?

FB: It might seem that way.  But Facebook’s community standards have always held the same position on guns, and many other consumer products ...  It’s just not a place where we allow these things to be sold.

Me: Is Facebook screening this type content with some automated bot, or algorithm, which was designed to restrict all gun related content?

FB: Facebook uses a variety of ways to analyze content, but in this (and many other cases) the content was read by 'real people' ... who are solely looking to ensure that all content follows Facebook’s community standards.

Me: Let’s forget the article ... If my veteran buddies and I are just shooting some targets, y’know getting our gun on, and doing it on private property, will Facebook limit how we can share those pictures?

FB: No, not at all.  There are people sharing pictures of hunting, and holding firearms all the time.  Our main concern is to ensure that the policies are followed.

Me: So, how can I keep from this happening again? Should journalists ensure we’re using keywords like; rental, rifle range or this photo is a reasonable individual exercising his/her constitutional right?

FB: No, keywords are not necessary ... But context is everything.

It comes down to "context" a word that invites a thousand more questions, but ultimately decides if an article or an advertisement can be promoted.

So, the next time I promote a gun related article, I’ll make it clear, that I’m not promoting the sale of guns. But the true price of promoting it on Facebook, may be knowing that content with guns, is being proof read by more than my editor. And in this case, it seems like their proof reader does not like guns.