Facebook Drops Hammer on Gun Giveaways Following Vocativ Investigation

Apr 23, 2013 at 6:50 AM ET

Following the publication of a Vocativ investigation on Thursday, Facebook has taken down the pages of at least five groups that were giving away guns — including AR-15 military-style rifles — on the social networking site.

Vocativ reported that gun sweepstakes on Facebook, many sponsored by online weapons dealers, spiked after the Newtown school massacre in December.  This month there have already been at least 36 such giveaways, up from a total of nine in November 2012. 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.

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By Saturday, Facebook had taken down the home pages of all the companies mentioned by name in Vocativ’s story. Those included:

– The Facebook brand page for weapons news site AR15News.com, which sponsored an AR-15 giveaway just last week, was down for two days. A revised version of the page came back up on Sunday evening. In a post today, site owner Ben Wentzel wrote that a Facebook employee “who happens to be a fellow lover of shooting sports and the industry in general” helped him get his page in line with Facebook’s policies. “My violations were two fold regarding Facebook’s TOS (Terms of Service).  1. I was not following Facebook’s guidelines when it came to running giveaways on my page.  Basically, you can’t force people to use the “Like” button, etc to participate.  2. You aren’t allowed to promote the use/sale of a weapon/firearm/explosive, ” he explained.

– Lousiana-based custom-weapons dealer 556 Tactical’s main Facebook page disappeared Friday and remains down. The company launched a replacement page called “Assault Life” that has accumulated more than 16,700 likes in less than three days.

– Gun dealer Pittsburgh Tactical, an active player in the gun giveaways, also saw its main page removed by Facebook. Over the weekend, the company put up a new page called “Pittsburgh Tactical Survival,” which was also shut down. A third page, called “Miss Pittsburgh Tactical”, is being used to communicate with the original group’s supporters.

– The social network also lowered the boom on Gunsweeps and Grabagun.com, both of which participated in gun sweepstakes.

A Facebook spokesperson told Vocativ that the sweepstakes are technically ads and stand in violation of the social network’s advertising rules. “Our ad guidelines prohibit promotion of the sale of weapons and the ad guidelines apply to pages with commercial content on them,” he said. “Ads may not promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition, or explosives.”

The removal of the pages sparked a fierce backlash among supporters of the giveaways. Vocativ’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments — and even some threats. The owner of Pittsburgh Tactical, Erik Lowry, wrote, “You pissed off a lot of people. I would be very careful if I were you.” In a second posting he said the message was “not a threat. I am just giving you some advise (sic)”:

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Other posters accused Vocativ of unfairly drawing attention to the giveaways:

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A Facebook spokesman had no further comment today on the gun giveaway groups.

Meanwhile, AR15news’s Ben Wentzel is reassessing the contests. “I probably will stay away from Giveaways for a while until I can figure out exactly how to do it under Facebook’s TOS and that for sure means no complete rifle giveaways anymore,” he wrote on AR15news.com.