The folks over at Open Source Defense have a fascinating column by former Facebook engineering manager Chuck Rossi on the new social media policies at Facebook and subsidiary Instagram that target influencers who create gun-related “branded content.” Rossi says the move by the tech giant is a “significant change” for the companies, because they’re not just going after ads for firearms (which have been banned on the platform for several years), but are now cracking down on organically created content.

The key will be to understand if this new restriction applies only to people who have an Instagram business account or use the Instagram Brand Collaborations tool. This would seem to be the only way to fairly enforce a restriction like this. If the enforcement goes beyond those areas, we’re looking at a situation where you, as a user of the platform, cannot create content that states “I think this pistol is a great beginner gun and I think it’s what you should get if you’re interested in getting into the shooting sports”. Implementing a policy like this would be exceedingly difficult and would introduce more errors and user frustration in an area that is already having issues with fairness and bias.

For a couple of years during his time at Facebook, Rossi says he tried to create fair and transparent rules for users of the platforms, especially for gun owners, gun stores, firearms manufacturers, and others associated with lawful gun culture. Rossi says it’s become clear that, while Second Amendment supporters haven’t been totally silenced, it’s clear that some large issues exist for gun owners on Facebook and Instagram.

  • The social companies have been inconsistent, unclear, and unhelpful when it comes to their content and ads policies. There was no interest in helping people navigate the waters and there was no effort to help companies find a path to compliance. They seem to be optimizing for removing firearm content as something unimportant and unwelcome on their platforms.
  • There are sudden and arbitrary policy changes. As the Instagram influencer change demonstrates, policy changes can happen suddenly and completely change the status of accounts with no grace period and no chance of a path to compliance. What was fine to do for years is suddenly grounds for deleting your account and all your data with no recourse available to the user. Old content which was policy-compliant at the time of posting is now used as grounds to remove your account and data.
  • Less-than-logical policies. It’s very clear from both my direct experience and from observing policy decisions on other social platforms that there are no subject matter experts making the policy decisions when it comes to creating or updating firearms policy. The same can be said for those creating and running the training for both the human reps who are making the takedown decisions and the artificial intelligence systems that are trying to automate the process. This should be easily fixable with the right SMEs in place.

Rossi also notes the punitive nature of the policies in place, as well as the “weak to no-support” offered to individuals who are incorrectly flagged for a post or comment.

When I asked for your thoughts on what to do about the new content crackdown from Facebook and Instagram, I mostly heard variations on the theme of “we need to start something new/we need to quit using Facebook.” Rossi says that’s counter-productive, and he advises gun owners and Second Amendment supporters to “live in the public square and not be pushed off into the corners.”

First off, we should know the details and nuances of the policies. Hopefully this article helps on the Facebook and Instagram side, but sites like YouTube are notoriously vague when it comes to understanding the details of what’s allowed. Use their support infrastructure.

Second, we should always be appealing, always be escalating. Use the appeal flows offered by the platforms, use online searches to find the appeal flows that are hidden or might not be obvious, reach out to your followers, and reach out to anyone you know who works at these companies. Failing that, talk to your representatives in government, framing the issue as a consumer protection crisis, not a Second Amendment issue.

As Rossi correctly points out, if “your cable company, phone company, utility company, or virtually any other consumer service did this at the scale the social platforms do, it would be a national crisis.” Why should Facebook get a pass just because it’s a social media platform?

There are too many great paragraphs in Rossi’s column to quote here, so be sure to visit OSD and read the entire column for yourself. I’ll be reaching out to Rossi and hope to have him on “Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co.” when shows return on December 30.