A new investigation from tech accountability group The Tech Transparency Project found nearly 200 different ads on Facebook and Instagram that it claims violate the company’s own rules prohibiting ads that “promote the sale or use of weapons, weapon modification accessories, ammunition, or explosives.” Those posts include ads promoting sales of AR-15 style rifles, a controversial long gun form favored by numerous mass shooters that’s become one of the national gun debate’s most symbolic lodestones. The report comes less than six months after a separate investigation found firearms sellers were maneuvering around the platform’s rules against peer-to-peer guns sales.
TTP says it discovered the 173 ads, which include posts promoting accessories like optics and magazines, speed loaders, and gun racks during an investigation conducted between August 15 and August 29, 2022. Some of the advertisers reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their campaigns. Though the posts only represent a small fraction of the ads served on Meta platforms, the TTP says its findings nonetheless raise concerns around Meta’s content review system which reportedly relies primarily on artificial intelligence.
“Meta is regularly failing to enforce the rules it has on the books when it comes to gun-related advertising,” TTP said. “Meta is not only allowing such content to reach users in violation of company policy, but it’s reaping a substantial amount of revenue from these ads.”
Some of the ads featured in the investigation appear to illustrate ways sellers are potentially gaming Meta’s automated review process. In one ad, gun seller KG Gun Works posted an image promoting its AR-15 style rifle along with the firearm’s specifications. In the comment section of the post a commenter asks the seller for the firearm’s price. The seller responded saying “FB does not allow pricing.” Other ads from real world gun stores depict images of their firearms and direct readers toward their physical addresses and websites.
In addition to the posts allegedly promoting firearm sales the investigation found 69 different advertisements for gun optics and mounts, and dozens of ads for so-called “speed loaders,” all of which TTP notes still appear to violate Meta’s policies. One of the ads, placed by a page called “Stand for the 2nd Amendment” featured an ad promoting its “AR-15 Five Piece Package,” which includes an illuminated reticle, a green laser, and a mini reflex sight, amongst other attachments. Another ad features a video with text reading “EVERY AR-15 OWNER NEEDS THIS.”
Some of the sellers wrote disclaimers saying they don’t promote the sale of weapons or ammunition but then go on to advertise items like speed reloading devices which TTP notes are clearly used to enhance a firearms functionality. The investigation also found 32 ads for gun raffles where individuals raise money for a charity or some other cause by selling off raffle tickets for a firearm, some of which included AR-15s. Meta’s policies don’t appear to mention raffles specifically.
Meta did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
The TTP report comes just four months after The Washington Post published a report pointing out how buyers and sellers on the platform can violate rules against weapons sales up to 10 times before they are kicked off the platform. Gizmodo also found examples of users pursuing loopholes around the rules with one seller presenting a Gizmodo reporter with a small handgun even though it was listed as a “gun case.”
Meta has taken issue with the Post report, with spokesperson Andy Stone even taking to Twitter to argue the publication’s portrayal of the strike system, “distorts” the company’s approach. There are some situations, Stone said, where a seller could have their account removed after one occurrence. It doesn’t help that the report went live weeks after a horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children and two staff dead.