Social media sites not responsible for enforcing gun laws

Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are taking the regulation of illegal activity on their sites into their own hands through recently announced measures.

To prevent unlicensed gun trading through Facebook and its sister company Instagram, Facebook has banned private sales of guns on the platforms, according to a Jan. 29 New York Times article.

Twitter has suspended more than 125,000 accounts affiliated with ISIS and other terrorist groups, according to a Feb. 5 article from National Public Radio. 

Some think the motive behind these measures is to avoid liability for crimes that arise through the use of Facebook or Twitter. However, the likelihood is that these sites are already protected by Section 320 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which exempts site operators from liability for communications they did not originate.

Section 320 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

This defense is likely to figure prominently in Twitter’s response to a lawsuit filed against it on Jan. 11 that seeks damages for content posted by ISIS-affiliated accounts. Twitter stated the lawsuit is meritless, and the site cannot be held responsible for its users’ actions, according to a Jan. 14 article from Ars Technica.

When Facebook first tightened its restriction on gun sales posts on March 5, 2014, Chris Cox of the NRA’s lobbying arm attacked the groups that had advocated this policy move  as “trying to shut down discussion of  Second Amendment issues.” However, the even more stringent policy that was just adopted has no bearing on discussion because it clearly targets illegal transactions rather than ideas.  And even if it did limit discussions—which would be a very unwise move on Facebook’s part—it has an absolute right to do so as a private entity.

Craigslist and eBay already have gun sales bans like the one Facebook is implementing, according to the New York Times article. That suggests Facebook is on solid ground in taking this stand.

The actions of Facebook show their higher-ups are serious about being good corporate citizens by limiting the use of their sites for illegal, dangerous purposes.

These social media sites can have a major effect on deterring terrorism and gun violence. If these organizations are attempting to reduce these activities through regulations on their sites, they should be commended for doing so.

Only those using social media for illegal purposes are targeted by these measures. If they are participating in illegal activity, whether online or in the real world, they should expect to face consequences.

It is seemingly inevitable that people will find ways around these regulations, but any effort taken by these social media organizations should be seen as a positive thing. These regulations cannot single handedly solve problems like terrorism and gun proliferation, but they have the potential to increase awareness of these issues and push further change.