The owner of a new Osseo gun club is upset that Facebook refuses to advertise a “family night” shooting range promotion, fresh criticism of the social media website that finds itself at the center of the gun-rights issue nationally.
Facebook shut down the Osseo Gun Club’s advertising account after the club promoted its Thursday “family nights.” The website cited its policy against ads that encourage the sale of guns and other weapons, or draw customers to “destinations” where a business sells weapons.
But club owner Chris Williamson said Facebook is being inconsistent, allowing forums where consumers can buy and sell guns, as well as allowing people to sell firearms on their personal Facebook pages. Yet, he said, the site won’t let gun clubs like his advertise for legal classes or other services, including those that promote safe usage of firearms.
“This is part of the culture here in Minnesota,” he said of firearms enthusiasts. “You can’t say ‘no’ just because they don’t like firearms.”
Facebook has drawn criticism from both sides of the gun issue. Last year, after an effort by gun safety advocates, Facebook announced new efforts to crack down on the discussion of firearms on the site, such as deleting posts from people trying to avoid gun laws by skirting background checks. Unlike other sites, like Craigslist, that ban posts on firearms, Facebook still allows users to sell firearms on their individual pages.
“This is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals’ desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere,” Facebook said in a news release about the changes last year.
Facebook, which didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story, has a policy restricting ads that promote the sale of firearms and other weapons, or ads “leading to destinations where the business primarily focuses on the sale of weapons.” Twitter also prohibits the promotion of firearms in ads.
‘Facebook has a lot of power’
In Osseo, where Williamson opened his gun club last year, his business has a Facebook page on which he posts updates such as family night deals — giving discounts to families for a shooting range lane rental. In August, Facebook notified him that his separate ad account was disabled for violating its policies. Now, he can no longer post sponsored ads that pop up on users’ personal pages, including those who don’t follow the gun club’s page.
Williamson argues that the policy prohibits his business from posting ads even if they don’t relate to gun sales, such as hosting firearms safety classes.
“There’s no other outlet on social media,” he said of promoting his new business.
William McGeveran, associate University of Minnesota law professor who has studied social networks’ rules, said that Facebook is a private company and is not required to be consistent. It can reject ads for any reason, just like media companies.
“They don’t have any obligation to be evenhanded,” said McGeveran, adding that the site has different terms for individuals vs. advertisers.
Users can unfollow someone if they disagree with the person’s social media posts, he added, but users have no choice in what advertising pops up on their page. “They don’t want users to be unhappy,” McGeveran said of Facebook, adding that the site usually responds to violations of its policy after a user flags them with concerns.
“Being denied access to these channels can be very difficult,” he said of businesses the company restricts. “Facebook has a lot of power.”
Protect Minnesota, a local gun violence prevention organization, supported Facebook’s changes intended to prevent people from selling guns without background checks. “Facebook does have to draw a line,” executive director Heather Martens said. “And there are legitimate concerns about how people are using Facebook in regards to firearms.”
In Osseo, a similar clash over advertising also happened recently with Comcast, which Williamson said wouldn’t let him use the word “gun” in a local TV ad. He said he has since yielded to the company’s policy and will have a TV ad about the “Osseo range.”