Facebook announced Wednesday it will work to restrict illicit gun sales on its networks after a months-long campaign by gun control activists.
The social network giant said it will block Facebook pages and Instagram posts dedicated to gun transactions for users under 18, delete posts advertising illegal sales, and add a faster process for users to flag posts that advertise illegal sales.
"We believe these collective efforts represent the right approach in balancing people's desire to express themselves while promoting a safe, responsible community," Facebook said in a blog post.
The shift in policy came after Facebook spent several months working with gun control groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) and Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization that recently joined forces with MAIG. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office also worked with Facebook on the new policy.
Schneiderman and representatives from the groups praised Facebook during a Wednesday conference call as a "responsible social media site" and said the move will be a significant step toward stopping illegal private sales of guns.
"The message here is that if you buy a gun off of Facebook or Instagram, you’re going to know to do it the right way," Schneiderman said.
Gun control advocates began pushing Facebook to crack down on private gun sales over its network in November, arguing the site had become a black market for felons, minors, and others barred from legally owning guns.
"We conducted three undercover investigations that shed light into what has become a virtual gun show," John Feinblatt, the chair of MAIG, said. "Felons were hopping on the Internet to buy guns knowing there would be no questions asked."
Gun control organizers could not provide numbers on how many illegal gun sales take place over Facebook and Instagram.
One of the most popular pages on Facebook for advertising guns, Guns For Sale, has more than 200,000 "likes."
Members of the Facebook group see the new policy as a solution in search of a problem.
"There is no smoking gun here of big groups of Facebook users doing something wrong that requires some regulation," one member told USA Today. "But Facebook is a private company, I guess if they want to have restrictive policies that alienate users, they can do that."
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require background checks for all gun sales, and any sale across state lines must go through a federally licensed firearms dealer.
According to the gun control advocacy groups, more than 230,000 people signed a petition urging Facebook to restrict gun sales on its social network.
The new Facebook policy is the latest victory in a public pressure campaign against corporations by Moms Demand Action and other organizations. Starbucks changed its policy allowing gun owners to carry inside its stores after a similar campaign by the group last year.