You can break Facebook’s rules on selling guns 10 times before being suspended

You know the old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me nine additional times and I guess I might finally be motivated to do something about it.”

illustration of a gun made with a social media icon
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Facebook does not allow the sale or purchase of firearms on its platform. And the company takes this very seriously. According to a report from The Washington Post, you can only violate the rule 10 times before the company finally suspends you from the platform. You know the old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me nine additional times and I guess I might finally be motivated to do something about it.”

Facebook banned the private sale of guns on its platform, including through Marketplace, in 2016. But actual enforcement of that rule has been pretty spotty. In 2020, a report from Protocol highlighted how easily people were able to bypass these restrictions and sell guns anyway, typically through private groups. Investigations by The Wall Street Journal and The Trace also found that gun sales remained rampant on the platform long after the ban went into effect. Now we’ve got a better idea of why: The system for punishing buyers and sellers is apparently about as lenient as can be.

Here’s how Facebook’s system works, per the Post: Users are not allowed to make posts selling or soliciting the purchase of a firearm (gun stores can advertise firearms, but can’t sell them directly through Facebook). If they are found to be doing that — which is a big if, considering Facebook’s pretty weak enforcement policy — the content is removed and they receive a strike on their profile.

Each strike carries slightly harsher punishments, but it’s pretty light, all things considered. Rack up four strikes, for example, and you’ll get suspended from making new posts for a week. And, again, that’s assuming Facebook actually catches the bad post to begin with. It’s entirely possible that a person posts a gun for sale, gets a message from a buyer, deletes the post, and completes the transaction offline before Facebook even catches a whiff of it.

It’s not until the 10th strike that Facebook finally opts to suspend violators for good. Facebook gets slightly harsher with gun sellers and buyers who have actively made calls to violence on the platform: They get suspended after five strikes, per the Post. Facebook also clears strikes after one year, so duck suspension for long enough and you can clear your slate and start all over again.

Facebook did not dispute the 10-strike rule when the Post asked. The company’s communications director, Andy Stone, took to Twitter to correct “distortions” about the policy, but effectively defended it as being strict enough. According to Stone, “90% of people who get a strike for violating our firearms policy accrue less than two because their violations are inadvertent and once we inform them about our policies, they don’t violate them again.” (When Mic reached out for comment about the 10-strike policy, Facebook merely linked to Stone’s Twitter thread, which is certainly one way to get engagement with a post.)

Given that, it’s curious that Facebook wouldn’t just lower the bar for suspension, given the company seems to believe the vast majority of people will never reach that point. Why do the 10% who get more than one strike need 10 chances? Facebook also says that in the case of “serious violations,” it will bypass its own rules and suspend people immediately or even contact law enforcement, though it didn’t provide an example of this happening. But again, if the company will do this, why not just make it the official policy instead of the exception?

Stone defended the company’s policy by claiming it is “far more stringent than federal law.” That is damning with faint praise.