Democrats on Capitol Hill took another swipe at Facebook on Monday, accusing the tech giant of a lack of transparency regarding ad placements in an open letter authored by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In particular, the Democrats on the committee have a problem with ads for firearm accessories that they say were popping up in close proximity to content that “amplified election misinformation” and near news stories about the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.
Specifically, Democrats are upset that Buzzfeed reported some users were seeing ads for “long range hunting ammunition” while Facebook had said it was temporarily banning ads that “promote weapons accessories and protective equipment in the US.” Committee chairman Frank Pallone and other Democrats on the committee write that the company “must immediately examine its advertising practices and make substantive changes to its policies to avoid future instances of ad placements and targeting that promote violence,” adding that they “strongly believe Facebook has a moral obligation to take action regarding ads that stoke aggression.”
Why would an ad for hunting ammunition stoke aggression? Democrats didn’t say, but they did demand that Facebook answer a number of questions, imposing a March 22nd deadline for the company to respond.
- What steps does Facebook plan to take to ensure that advertisements for weapons or other tactical military equipment and accessories are not targeted in a manner that can jeopardize public safety?
- What procedures and processes does Facebook have in place for reviewing the audience of advertisements for weapons or other tactical military equipment and accessories on its platforms? Please provide a concise step-by-step summary of the review process.
- Does Facebook have dedicated staff to monitor and approve the targeting of advertisements for weapons or other tactical military equipment or accessories on its platform? If so, how many staff are assigned to this process? If no dedicated staff are monitoring such advertisement targeting, please explain in more detail why.
- Are companies whose advertisements appear on Facebook aware or notified that their ads are being placed next to content that includes misinformation, disinformation, violence, hate speech, or voter suppression? If so, are they given the choice to opt out of those placements? If not, please explain the rationale for not providing this option.
- Have any companies whose advertisements appeared on Facebook expressed concerns regarding the placement of their advertisements next to content that includes misinformation, disinformation, violence, hate speech, or voter suppression? If so, please describe those concerns, the types of companies who have raised such concerns, and what steps Facebook has taken to address those concerns.
So now hunting ammo is considered “tactical military equipment”? I suppose if Democrats are trying to define unfinished gun parts as actual firearms, calling hunting ammo “military equipment” shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Here’s the thing, though. Facebook wasn’t compelled by government to pause advertising for anything. The company chose to suspend advertising for firearm accessories and personal protection equipment (which was the wrong thing to do, in my opinion) voluntarily. If I were Mark Zuckerberg I’d write a three word response to the Democrats on the House committee: go pound sand.
I suspect, however, that Zuckerberg will be a little more politically correct in his response to House Democrats, though whether he tells them everything they’re asking for remains to be seen. At the end of the day, while Facebook is the target of the Democrats’ inquiries, the real goal of their efforts seems to be devoted to demonizing lawful gun ownership. They want to make any and all advertisements that have the slightest connection to gun ownership so problematic to the platform that the easiest choice for Facebook is to simply not allow the ads at all. It’s another sign that Democrats aren’t just going to use legislation to advance their anti-gun agenda in Congress; they’ll use the power of the bully pulpit to target legal gun owners and companies in the firearms industry as well.