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Congratulations! You’ve Won An AR-15 Assault Weapon… on Facebook (UPDATED)

Update: In response to Vocativ’s investigation of gun sweepstakes on Facebook, the social network has taken down the pages of at least five groups that have been giving away free firearms on the site.

In the process of reporting the story, Vocativ provided Facebook with several examples of active gun giveaways on their platform. On Friday Facebook explained that the sweepstakes violate the company’s advertising guidelines and that the pages in question had been removed. “Facebook strives to create a safe and trusted environment for everyone that uses our service,” the company told Vocativ in a statement.

Now that the U.S. Senate has voted against enacting any new federal gun control measures, Americans are as free as ever to purchase firearms with limited background checks.

They’re also able to score free firearms from an unexpected source: Facebook.

Before 2011, the social network’s promotions guidelines explicitly banned guns as a sweepstakes prize, as well as tobacco, prescription drugs and gasoline. Then in May of that year, Facebook reversed course and lifted the restrictions.

How we Know—The Methodology Behind the Story

  • The initial assignment: Locate mercenary activity.
  • Identified and researched forums, chat rooms, Facebook groups on related topics.
  • Found a discussion regarding how some soldiers only maintain Facebook profiles in order to enroll in "gun giveaways." 
  • Observed dozens of Facebook groups over several weeks that were involved in such types of giveaways. 
  • Monitored for giveaway frequency in each group and identified a spike following the Newtown shootings. 

Since then—and especially since December’s Newtown massacre—gun giveaways have boomed on the billion-member site. An AR-15, the military-style semi-automatic rifle Adam Lanza used (along with other firearms) in the Sandy Hook shootings, is an especially popular freebie.

A Vocativ analysis found dozens of Facebook groups currently participating in gun sweepstakes. In the contests, dealers award free guns, gun parts and ammunition to individuals who qualify by liking or sharing various pages, using an app or simply clicking through to a website. In April alone, there have already been at least 36 such giveaways, a massive spike from a total of nine in November 2012.

Greg Lastowka, author of Virtual Justice, a book about Internet law, and a professor at Rutgers University, says Facebook’s policy change is likely based upon one factor: money. “Part of it could be that Facebook is now aggressively trying to monetize the platform,” he says. “They want to move away from any kind of restrictions on profits.”

In addition, he says Facebook wants to uphold its value as a rich hub of demographic data. “They want advocacy groups to be using the platform as well, so they can sell advertising against the demographics, and have a business tying all demographics together,” he says.

With a bleak, bullet-riddled cover photo and over 48,000 likes, the Facebook page of AR15News.com, an online weapons publication, has hosted multiple giveaways. Yesterday marked the close of their most recent promotion, for Adams Arms, a gun parts manufacturer. A grand-prize winner claimed a free AR-15 rifle, while two runners up nabbed assorted gun parts. To qualify, users had to complete a series of tasks, including sharing and commenting on a picture of an AR-15, and liking the Facebook pages of AR15news.com and 51 additional sweepstakes sponsors.

A screengrab from an AR-15 giveaway on Facebook

“I know there are a lot of pages to like but please don’t complain about it. It took a lot of work to get this done,” the contest rules read. In the next line, the organizer posted these handy tips: “I recommend ‘right clicking’ on the page links below and opening them in another tab so that you can efficiently click ‘Like’ on the pages and not miss any of them.”

The contest’s rules quite clearly state that the winner must be of legal age to own a firearm, and that “all state and local laws apply!”—including not shipping “High Capacity Magazines” to California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey or Washington, D.C.

The lucky winner—a resident of South Carolina, according to his Facebook profile—posted a celebratory comment that read: ”Today was a double win for me. Not only did I win an amazing AR15 rifle, but the senate squished Obama’s nonsense!!!”

AR15News.com assured Vocativ that they were in compliance with all local, state and federal laws, and with Facebook policy.

But the question remains: What does Facebook think about the gun giveaways?

When Vocativ first contacted Facebook, a company spokesman was unaware that the giveaways existed. Alerted to the existing posts, he says the pages are considered ads and thereby do violate the social network’s terms. “Our Ad Guidelines prohibit promotion of the sale of weapons and the Ad Guidelines apply to Pages with commercial content on them,” he says. “Ads may not promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition, or explosives.” He says the company will review the posts, adding, “Most of these should be removed per our terms.” (Facebook has both ad guidelines and promotions guidelines.)

Still, Facebook almost certainly doesn’t bear any legal liability for guns given away on the site. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides platforms immunity from content posted by its users, by removing specific prohibitions on firearms and other items banned under certain laws.

Unless Facebook changes its policy, its highly unlikely the firearms sweepstakes will go away. The promotions have been a boon to business for many of the companies that sponsor them.

Pittsburgh Tactical Firearms, a gun dealer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ran its first Facebook contest in 2011. “Sales went through the roof,” owner Eric Lowry tells Vocativ. “We are a small shop and it was a great way to draw business to the store. It just became super popular.” Lowry says he plans to soon launch his “largest giveaway ever,” which will include a package of guns, body armor and steel targets.

Pittsburgh Tactical Firearms tells Vocativ that Facebook giveaways have been a huge boon to business.

 

Respond Now
  • I usually do not leave a comment, however I browsed a few of
    the comments on Congratulations! You’ve Won An AR-15 Assault Weapon… on Facebook (UPDATED) – Vocativ. I do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind. Could it be simply me or do a few of these remarks come across like they are coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are posting on other online sites, I would like to keep up with everything new you have to post. Would you make a list of all of all your social community sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  • Nice try guys. All the giveaway websites are back up, thanks to liberty and freedom mattering to some people. Can’t wait to win my next semi-automatic rifle.

  • So is this another political site masquerading as a news aggregator? Why is it that the voices of the establishment like this site are so anti technology and freedom. They cant leave anything alone. They have to insert politics into everything they touch. They think they are the enlightened. They are not. They are societies bad nannies. Its time for another cultural revolution like the 60′s to rid this new bunch of pests from our lives. We want to live free. Stay out of our lives. Let us marry, associate, and recreate how we wish. You cannot control us. Stop Watching Us!

    A Free Man.

  • I just want to say who gives a crap that guns are on Facebook. They are not dangerous in any way and I sure that even with on guns Facebook it can continue to be a safe and trusted site. Instead of being incredibly ignorant towards guns, why don’t you focus your time on ridding Facebook of porn. If anything is dangerous to young children and Facebookers, it would definitely be porn and other inappropriate videos. So instead of trying to remove gun websites, focus on the inappropriate videos that have now taken over Facebook. That is more of a realistic goal.

  • Yeah way to you for trying to screw over the 2nd amendmant and peoples rights!! (NOT!) Guess what jack asses, you have given these people way more publicity and business. Thanks for that!! As a Law Enforcement Officer I am saddened by your stupidity and actions. You people have no real clue what it is like in the real world.

    The only thing that is worse is knowing my friends, brothers, and compatriots are out protecting dumbasses like you.

  • Way to be a dick, bunch of fuckin haters.

  • Show More
  • Because of you the above mentioned pages have been shut down. Obviously you are one of those liberal gun control. Your achievement is not appreciated.

  • Any firearm that is won in a contest still has to be picked up through a licensed FFL dealer and the person picking it up goes through a background check (which are already required by law anyway when purchasing a firearm). Also, btw, an AR-15 was never used in Sandy Hook. It was found in his trunk.

  • Facebook takes my copyrighted photos and uses them to advertise their apps without compensating me but they won’t let organizations supporting the 2nd amendment use their site because they are giving away something. I get it. It’s alright for them to steal but not alright for someone to give something away.

  • Don’t you have anything better to do than attack these Facebook pages that give away guns and other prizes to law abiding citizens. All the prizes that are given away are shipped to a licensed dealer and the winner has to goto the process like he was buying the firearm. These pages do not just send the weapon to the winners front door via UPS.

  • These companies complied with every federal and local law! You are clearly anti 2nd amendment and should stop harassing these people and leave their pages alone.

  • You people make me fucking sick… You fucking liberals should do us all a big favor and suck start a shotgun.

  • If you are trying to silence us on the 2nd Amendment, GO TO HELL! The 2nd protects all the rest you dumbasses! We will not go away and we will NOT be silenced! The only people that needs their rights taken away is liberals, after, all, they are the ones committing all the gun violence!

  • So, you America hating, Nazi fascist pieces of shit. Do you enjoy violating Constitutional Rights? You Hitler cock sucking pigs. Fuck you and your American-hating cowardly ignorant friends.

  • You most likely won t print this since it is not in favor of your tactics, because someone believes in and chooses to do something as in target shooting/sporting rifles you take it upon your holier than thou selves to harass the site owners, their businesses etc. And your article contains false information. An AR15 WAS NOT USED and has been proven and documented in the Newtown shooting. So you need to check your facts and report the truth instead of bending the facts to tilt things in your direction.

  • I would have finished reading this article, but I got to one point and it pissed me off.

    Adam Lanza DID NOT USE an AR-15 at Sandy Hook. He used 4 pistols. There was an AR-15 in the trunk of his car but he DID NOT use it in his attic.

  • adam lanza never used an ar-15 the rifle was found in his car after the shooting. he used four handguns.

  • Can you please post a list of pages that are currently giving away firearms and accessories? Not ones that have expired. Ones that are currently running. This would be great information to have.

  • Why would facebook care about giveaways if they are following all legal means to deliver said rifle. A Ar, AK, or any variation MUST be shipped to a FFL (a Federal Firearms Licensee, a dealer). The only way a rifle can be shipped to a persons house with only a valid ID, is if it is a Antique rifle. While these can be wall hangers (non functioning) or fully functioning rifles, they also HAVE TO BE made from 1898 and earlier. Why should facebook not accept advertising from firearm manufacturers? Criminals are NOT going to dealers and getting guns, nor are they going to gun shows as these only account for less than 1% of guns used in crimes. The fact is criminals are robbing us legal gun owners homes while we are not home, are sending people who can buy rifles and pistols into gun shops and buying these firearms legally and turning around and selling them at a higher price to the criminals (straw purchase). We need NO new laws regarding gun control, criminals will not follow them, and judging by past conviction dates/prosecution rates they will not be prosecuted for said crimes of straw purchase or attempting to buy a gun while they know they are not eligible to even touch the paperwork, but still try. Hope this informs your readers more and they find out the facts instead of the media hype and gunophobia.

  • This site is engaged in activities against the 1st and 2nd amendments. Your actions will be shared and monitored for the safety of all freedom loving American’s.

  • It seems you have incorrect information as well as your article being very misleading. Anyone who wins these firearms must still go through a licensed FFL dealer and must pass a federal background check just like when receiving any firearm. Also when the award for the giveaway is ammunition or other possibly restricted item. You must abide by federal, state and possible local legislation regarding the item and they will not be shipped to person’s who’s residence is in places that have local or state restrictions on the said item.
    Also, Adam Lanza did not use an AR-15 rifle in his shootings. That was made clear by law enforcement if you had paid any attention to an actual media outlet unlike the ridiculous sham this site is.

  • Just like the citizens of Watertown had their 4th amendment rights trampled on, you have done the same with people’s 2nd amendment and claim it as “Freedom of the Press”. Explain how you continued to harass Ben Wentzel and his company, AR15News.com, then ran publications against his demands.

    From AR15News

    “So for the past 2 weeks I’ve been harassed by a news agency called Vocativ. They’ve called and emailed over and over again asking for information on our giveaway. My specific comment was “I would ask that you please refeain from using my personal name (Ben Wentzel or Ben GrandBlanc), my business name (AR15NEWS or AR15NEWS.com) or any of my giveaway images/text in your article. I do not wish to participate in your article as I am not familiar with your company and dont know what what your stance is regarding the Second Amendment. I only align myself with companies that support the Second Amendment. Also, please stop calling and emailing me every single day!”. Well apparently that wasn’t clear enough and they went ahead with the article anyways. Now all of the pages that were mentioned in that article are down.”

    You’re a stereotypical limp dick liberal who couldn’t make it in mainstream media, so you put up a website, call yourself a “blogger” and hide behind the fact that you’re a “legitimate news outlet”. Why don’t you do the world a favor…. Stop harassing people’s rights that are guaranteed to them in the Bill of Rights, and go choke on an AIDS covered dick. See, this is someone exercising their first amendment rights, which is protected by the 2nd.

  • I’ve got to say, it’s pretty stupid for them to be controlling content in such a silly way. These firearms are shipped to an FFL dealer who runs a background check, it makes no sense that they can’t advertise and promote just like any other legal business. If facebook is so worried about community standards that create a family website, why don’t they limit certain pages to adults above a certain age, the restriction would be automatic given that most people have their age on facebook.

  • It’s not like these gun pages are giving away illegal drugs! They are giving away something not only legal but written into our constitution.

  • Its prob that little fruit loop Suckerburg that doesn’t allow the gun giveaways. You can give away other things, but not guns. Sounds kinda like its interfering with our rights. A bunch of little pansies must run Face Book. That is so redic. Face book is the first ones to take your money, but wont let you run promos to your liking.

  • I would hope you are doing back ground checks on anybody before putting these in the wrong hands, I would expect nothing less. I take pride in being able to pocess and operate any weapon I own correctly. If they weren’t doing these background checks, I woud be worried. I would love to win a body armour, vest, for my son doing his armed security and hope that you continue to provide us who are legal to own these and appreciate this opportunity.
    Thanks for making it a safer America when giving these guns away avoiding the wrong hands. We have lived a clean life and deserve this kind of recognization.

  • Im glad that you are against the second amendment and I know not to support such actions for a company or group that does not believe in the constitutional rights unless it benefits themselves. You exercised your 1st amendment right to free speech, but think about what you are doing. Without the second amendment, how long do you think your first amendment rights would last? You will never, NEVER take away our guns or our opportunities to get them…

  • Interesting article. As someone who has purchased a few firearms in the last few years, I do know a little bit about the process. If a person goes to a gun store and decides to purchase a firearm, they must first go thru a background check. A Form 4473 is filled out and then a phone call or computer check is made to either the ATF or the FBI (I don’t know which). What goes into the background check at that point, I don’t know.

    If a person wins a firearm in a contest, it gets sent to a local FFL dealer where again a Form 4473 is filled out.

    If a person buys a firearm over the internet, they supply their FFL dealers info to the company selling it and the firearm gets sent there and once again a Form 4473 is filled out.

    The majority of the gun sellers at gun shows are FFL dealers and if someone is interested in purchasing a gun from them they have to fill out a Form 4473.

    Literally the only ways to not fill out a Form 4473 are if two people meet up face to face to make a the transaction or there are a few gun sellers at gun shows who are private owners wanting to sell out some of their personal collection.

    When the government stated that only 40% of gun sales do not have background checks they were talking about a study done over 20 years ago. Nowadays, things have changed considerably and background checks are made on probably 90-95% of firearms sales.

    As a proponent of the 2nd Amendment, I don’t really understand why their is all the hubbub about the Universal Background Checks since we already do them. What’s the big deal?

    Seriously, if you want to do real investigative reporting of these types of issues, look into that 20 yr old study. Chicago has some of the absolute strictest gun laws in the nation. All of the stuff the democrats have been wanting in the last few months they already do in Chicago. Chicago led the nation in murders.

    The assault weapons ban? On the FBI website deep down it gives the statistic that of all the gun related homicides, 523 were committed using rifles. There is no breakdown of what type of rifles are used. In other words, the firearm that is used the least in homicides is the one they say is the most dangerous. Why is that? Let’s not forget that every death caused by firearms is automatically classified as a homicide in the FBI database. That includes officer involved shootings and justifiable homicide such as a homeowner protecting themselves, their families, or their property.

    Don’t take my word for it, these are all easy to find facts. Ask yourself this, why did the Social Security Administration buy a large quantity of different caliber rounds. How about the Dept of Homeland Security? Why did they get so many JHP rounds? Now, keep in mind that law enforcement agencies are not supposed to use jacketed hollow point rounds. They are considered too lethal. In the civilian shooting community we practice with Full Metal Jacket rounds because the JHP’s are too dang expensive. The spokes people for the various agencies say that they are buying them for practice. I would ask, practice for what? Since law enforcement agencies aren’t supposed to use them, and JHP’s are so dang expensive compared to FMJ’s, then why are they using them?

  • Cool! Sounds absolutely Libertarian! Free markets, and free minds baby!

  • As long as these sites were following the law, why do you feel the need to shut them down? Your questionable statement about limited background checks is particularly troubling when associated with this story, since these companies make uou go through a FFL dealer to have your firearm shipped, and would have to go through the NICS system to be able to get the gun. Why don’t you do a story about how the states are not reporting properly people who should not be able to get firearms to the NICS system? Or how the federal government is failing to make the states comply? These companies are following the law, stop persecuting them because you don’t agree with the 2nd amendment.

  • Thanks for pointing me to some great gun-friendly Facebook pages that I would not have found otherwise!

    Brad.

  • What point are you trying to make with the article? Are you critical of firearms companies holding contests on Facebook, or just pointing out that they exist?

    Nobody is buying a firearm “online.” The winners of the contest still must have the firearm delivered to an actual Federal Firearms License holder, or FFL (usually a gun shop), and go through the NICS background check in order to legally make the transfer. Additionally, some jurisdictions require a Permit to Purchase in order to effect the transfer, and some allow a current Permit to Carry to also function in that regard, so anyone obtaining a firearm in this manner is going to be thoroughly vetted before taking possession. There is nothing “limited” about the background check, and anyone who passes meets the requirements to legally possess a firearm.

    If you have a problem with that, you have a problem with the Second Amendment, and if you have a problem with the Second Amendment, you have a problem with the Constitution. The remedy, of course, would be to choose one of the many more-restrictive countries in which to reside.

    I, for one, would be thrilled to win a firearm on Facebook. With the way Washington politics has been driving up the costs associated with firearms and ammunition, winning one would certainly take the strain off the budget.

  • Just an FYI, if you were to win an AR-15 on facebook, it would have to go through a Federal Firearms Licensee before you can take possession of the firearm. Its not delivered to your house. You still have to fill out the paperwork and are subject to an NCIC background check appproval to receive it.

  • Nd I hate what Facebook is doing. They could end up losing more than 5 pages.

  • Obviously your web site is entirely employed by anti gunners or people who are ignorant to firearms and firearms purchasing requirements. You’re entire article is riddled with personal opinions or regurgitated media misinformation. First off I’d like to say that owning a gun does not make you a criminal, a mad man, or a mentally defective person, nor will it turn you into one so I’d appreciate it if you stopped treating legal gun owners in such a way. When a gun is purchased from a licensed dealer it always undergoes a background check even in the case of a gun give away the winner can not take possession of a gun until it has been shipped to a licensed dealer and the winner must go to the dealer and undergo a background check as well as fill out all necessary paper work, all the same processes as if you were actually purchasing the firearm yourself. You could have reported this without contacting Facebook but you feel some sort of vigilant need to shut down and stop any gun giveaways by the tone of your article thus clearly making obvious your stance on being an anti gun publication. Maybe these Facebook pages did give away guns but so what? That’s not illegal, they did it in a legal manner you’re trying to make them into bad people but if they were really up to no good you think they would have done this on a public social media page? And you mention limited background checks that’s a lie that your publication and the anti gun politicians are spreading. The background checks are performed by the ATF so unless they are getting lazy and not doing them you got no one to blame but the government. People like you make me sick with your smoking mirrors and lies and fear mongering. Thanks for getting those pages shut down they weren’t just about giveaways they were social communities of people with like minded interests but you don’t see that part you only see gun owners as demons not people. The reason giveaways like this boom after the newtown shooting is because when ever a tragedy happens like that the government begins to push for regulations to disarm the masses but laws only affectlaw abiding citizens not criminals and crazy people its a flawwed solution to a never ending problem. Gun owners aren’t the problem its evil and mentally ill people and there is no way to stop that ever so we can only try to detere such events but we can not prevent them its impossible because evil and mental illnesses reside within humanity and society. Get over yourselves and feel ashamed you are no better than racists and extreme socialists you are a sick bunch of narrowminded and ignorant group I hope you can look at this reply as constructive criticism and better yourself in the future but shame on you for not agreeing with the constitution and helping the movement revert back towards what America fought to escape in the colonial days

  • Wow! Congratulations, you have saved the world by getting a few Facebook pages shut down that were giving away LEGAL items. You should really be proud of yourselves, the world is now completely safe. I doubt there will ever be crime again with the likes of you on the case!

  • You Socialist douche bags suck. Too bad you weren’t standing in front of the Bombs in Boston when they went off.

  • I believe that if you went to the trouble of checking, you would find that each and every winner of the free weapon had to have a background check in order to receive their weapon. The people providing the guns are Federally licensed firearms dealers or manufacturers and have to show that they shipped the weapon to another licensed dealer or ran a NICS background check. They would lose their license from BATF if they did not. Generally, the way this works is that the winner would have to provide the name of a Federally licensed dealer in their area who would receive the weapon and run the background check on the winner. The local dealer would charge the winner a fee for doing the paperwork and running the background check. The local dealer would be prohibited from turning the won weapon over to a winner who does not pass the background check. The same system is used for online gun auction sites such as gunbroker.com.

    If you’re going to be a media outlet, you really should start doing your research before you start spewing stories with only half of the facts!

  • The AR15 was not used in the Sandy Hook shootings. It never left his car.
    If you purchase something from a dealer anywhere, or if it comes from outside your state it needs to be transferred through a dealer and you will have to complete the federal and any additional state background checks that are required. You can’t just mail order a gun and get it at your house. That was stopped in 1968.

  • Adam Lanza didnt use an AR-15.

    Winners will still have to undergo background checks to claim their rifles.
    The companies giving them away can only ship to another FFL in the same state as the winner, then the winner has to fill out all the same paperwork that they would if they had paid retail.

    The “gun show loophole” is a media myth – 99.9% of all firearms sales at gun shows are through FFL’s and therefore have to have background checks.
    I have been to MANY gun shows – you dont see gangbangers or thugs there trying to buy guns.
    They dont need to, its relatively easy to buy a gun from an illegal seller on the streets.

    lets stop with the new gun laws and try enforcing the existing ones!

  • Get your facts straight. If you are going to cite the Sandy Hook shooter, at least do not perpetuate the lies by claiming that an AR15 was what he used in the shooting. True, it is what he had in his trunk, but it has been proven that it is not what he used in the shooting. Is there no reliable news anymore, or do you just print whatever you think will sell?

  • You know that these pages have to ship the gun to an FFL dealer, then the winner has to pass a background check and everything, right? They can’t just ship it to his or her door, that’s illegal.

  • We as gun owners have the same rights as the people that make a choice not to own them. Your harassment of ARM15NEWS.COM and other sites just made them more poplar. We are sorry but your tricks did not work. Just like the trick of our Government trying to remove people 2nd Amendment rights. The only thing you forgot to tell your readers the truth. That all rifles away rifles are sent to a FFL dealer to make sure all laws are meet including back ground checks threw the NICS system. OOnce again another news report falsely stated to draw people attention.. Why don’t you try reporting the truth it may do wonders for your news and readers…. Thank you Owner 4 gun stores…… In Ohio.

  • How would you feel if a facebook group was giving away books? Or pens? Or admission to a legal demonstration? How about giving a way a document safe or a trip to Jerusalem or Mecca?

    Why is it ok to laud certain inalienable rights and lampoon others?

    More people are killed in the name of a religion or by drunk drivers as they return home from exercising their freedom to assemble than are ever killed by a mad man with a tool. Just because something scares you due to your complete lack of information, exposure, or training doesn’t mean you can just make it go away.

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