As a private, for-profit business, Facebook has every right to decide what kind of advertising policies it wants to enforce. In doing so, however, the social-networking site must balance the sensitivities of groups of people who may have differing viewpoints on any number of controversial topics.
The risk is that a single decision or policy restricting ads that promote a perfectly legal activity will alienate enough users to harm the website’s business in the long run. The situation is made more complicated because Facebook operates globally, and laws and norms differ from country to country.
Take guns, for example, and Facebook’s decision to ban ads from the Osseo Gun Club & Pro Shop. As the Star Tribune reported Wednesday, the club’s owner said Facebook shut down its advertising account because it was promoting Thursday “family nights.” Like Twitter, the website has a policy that restricts 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.” (The Star Tribune also closely reviews gun advertisements before publication, although its policies focus on whether sellers are federally licensed firearms dealers.)
Regardless of how wholesome — and legal — “family nights” at the range may be, Facebook wants no part of efforts to promote them beyond the Osseo club’s own page on the site. That bans the ads from the personal pages of users, including those who don’t follow the club’s page.
We sympathize with owner Chris Williamson, whose club also offers gun education and training classes. Although the Star Tribune Editorial Board favors stricter gun ownership laws, including expanded background checks, the board recognizes that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms safely and responsibly. We’ve also been encouraged to see the growth of high school trap shooting participation in Minnesota, which exposes more teens to safe firearms practices.
The vast majority of gun owners in Minnesota act responsibly, and Facebook may feel the wrath of some of them as it continues to deal with the consequences of its ad policies. But the website also deserves praise for its efforts to block those who use the site to traffic guns illegally in the U.S. and elsewhere.