Politics

Facebook to Congress: We’re (still) trying to eliminate gun sales

Facebook responds to questions from 13 senators prompted by a Protocol investigation. But key questions remain unanswered.

Facebook to Congress: We’re (still) trying to eliminate gun sales

Facebook told a group of U.S. senators that its years-long battle to eliminate peer-to-peer gun sales across its platforms "is not done" and that it will "continue to strengthen" enforcement. The 13 lawmakers had publicly sent the questions to Facebook following a Protocol investigation in February, which found that private groups on the website remain a popular place to buy and sell firearms despite Facebook's 2016 ban on gun sales.

Facebook's response, however, leaves many key questions unanswered, including how many gun groups it has removed from the site for violating its policies and how it expects users to report suspected gun sales in closed groups. In the letter, signed by VP of public policy Kevin Martin, Facebook said it did not track how many private groups are suspended for violating its firearms policy, which prohibits the sale or transfer of guns, gun parts, ammunition and 3D-printing files for firearms.


Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.


Martin said Faceook had "policies in place to protect against repeat offenders and recidivist behavior," but he did not provide details. "While we cannot provide specific details lest bad actors use the information to game the system," he wrote, "Facebook would not allow group administrators to set up a new group similar to a previously removed group."

The back and forth between Facebook and Congress represents the latest in a line of content moderation challenges for the company, underscoring how difficult it is to maintain user privacy and engagement while also banning certain behavior.

It's unclear whether members of Congress will seek further answers from Facebook on how it is working to eliminate gun sales, which have persisted despite numerous attempts to prevent users from using the website to arrange private, unregulated transactions. When Facebook announced its ban on gun sales in January 2016, it effectively took a political stand against the so-called "gun show loophole" that Congress could close by enacting universal background checks.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who along with Sen. Ed Markey led the latest letter from concerned senators, voiced his displeasure with Facebook's response. "Facebook's non-answer answer is disappointing, but not surprising. I really hope Facebook can do a better job for the sake of the American people, and use their power to keep users safe, connected and well-informed. That's what we need and deserve, especially in challenging times like the ones we're living with the coronavirus pandemic," Menendez told Protocol.

Protocol sent more than a dozen detailed questions to Facebook seeking to clarify the company's responses. A Facebook spokesperson declined to address any of the questions, saying, "We have no additional comment beyond what is in the letter."

Facebook's approach is similar to how the company has handled inquiries from congresspeople in the past. The latest letter bears striking resemblance to one Facebook sent Sen. Markey in 2016 following criticism in the press over the company's ability to enforce its ban on gun sales. Since then, Facebook has tweaked its AI-based algorithm to automatically detect suspected gun-sale posts numerous times, in part to better detect thinly veiled coded language that's become popular among users.

Common examples include uploading a photo of a gun with the words "Not for sale/Not for trade, just want to discuss" or "PM me to discuss." The approach is meant to shift the conversation to private messaging where, as Protocol demonstrated, users are often eager to discuss terms of a sale or trade.


Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.


In its letter to Sen. Menendez, Facebook addressed changes in its algorithm generally, saying that its "proactive AI technology is able to detect content that includes images of firearms and signals that indicate an intent to sell (including posting contact information such as phone numbers and usernames for other social media accounts and price information)."

As Facebook continues to try to enforce its ban, at least one group has been removed in recent weeks for violating it. The Virginia Gun Enthusiasts group, which Protocol highlighted as an example of how easily users are able to continue to skirt Facebook's ban, has been shut down. Users who try and access the page instead get a blank screen.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the group was removed for violating its policies.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins