Since Facebook banned people from arranging private gun sales on its social network in February, it has struggled to enforce the new rule.
One engineer in particular seems to be undermining its efforts, according to a report by Matt Drange at Forbes.
Over the last several years, Facebook had become known as a way for people to buy and sell guns without needing a background check. The company’s February ban relies on its users to report any gun sale violations, similar to how they report sales of illegal drugs or pharmaceuticals.
But most private gun sales happen with Groups, which can be set to a “secret” mode which prevents outsiders – like activists trying to wipe sales off the platform – from finding and joining them.
Chuck Rossi, director of engineering at Facebook, has reportedly become an advocate for gun groups on the site, helping many get reinstated after they were shut down for apparent sale violations.
Rossi, who is a vocal gun enthusiast, is the reportedly the leader of a secret Group called “Admin Contact” meant for the administrators of other gun enthusiast Groups that got shut down. He’s used that group to apologize to members for how the “whole mess was rolled out and how it affected” admins.
Here’s one of his private posts, via Drange:
“I am 100% laser focused on getting your groups back to you so you have a chance to get them to comply with the new policy. It is my sole freaking purpose in life until it is done. I’m dumping extra work on my mangers (sic) and my teams to cover for me while I take on this new role,” Rossi wrote. “I know this new policy sucks. I personally don’t agree with it and everyone in Facebook is pissed about how it was rolled out.”
That’s where things get complicated.
Once reactivated, Groups can still facilitate sales by going secret, and then allowing in only people who won’t report their actions, or by tweaking post language. Forbes highlighted instances where existing Groups tried tactics like listing gun prices as a times (“questions 8:50 pm” means a price of $850) or directing interested parties to communicate via direct message to avoid violations.
One argument against Facebook’s ban is that many Group users were actually following background checks and licensing rules (where they exist – many states don’t require gun owners to do background checks when selling personal firearms). In the wake of Facebook’s new policy, other sites popped up to replace it. On some of those sites, users have to share less information about themselves – for example, on Facebook, users have to use their real names
But groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America applauded Facebook’s move to ban private sales as a step in the right direction.
“We all have a role to play in reducing gun violence, and the corporate world is no different,” founder Shannon Watts, said in a press release when Facebook made its policy update. “Millions of gun sales are arranged online, without background checks in this country and Facebook’s bold move will help narrow the dangerous market that allows guns to fall into the wrong hands.”
Watts told Forbes that supporters of her group have been flagging posts and groups that break Facebook’s rules for unlicensed gun sales, but have been working with Facebook to “fix the flaws in their system.”
Facebook told us:
We have a team of specialists who are trained on our policies and how to implement them. In addition, we encourage employees across the company to flag instances in which our policies may have been applied incorrectly so that we can fix mistakes and make improvements to our review process. We understand that our employees may not always agree with our policies, but they are never authorized to work around them. We changed our policy to ban private gun sales in January 2016 and since then we have been working with page administrators to help them come into compliance with our new policies – pages will be reinstated only if that happens.
Rossi did not initially respond to requests for comment.