Weeks before the massacre at Santa Fe High School in Texas, the alleged killer posted a picture of a gun on Instagram captioned, “Hi fuckers.”
It’s the same social-media platform where the alleged mass shooter in Parkland, Florida, posted a picture of a gun. And before a mass murder at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the alleged killer posted a photo of a rifle with the words “she’s a bad bitch” to Instagram’s sister site, Facebook.
Facebook did not answer whether it was considering new policies on gun content, but told The Daily Beast it prohibited gun sales, including on its Marketplace feature, and credible threats of physical harm. It has no rules on the books against other firearm content.
That’s in contrast to other social media platforms that have curtailed or banned media featuring firearms in recent months.
Hours after the Santa Fe High School shooting, Instagram pulled the alleged killer’s account, but as part of the social media company’s policy against mass-killers having accounts. (The company said it could not conclusively state the account was the shooter's.) Facebook, which owns Instagram, told The Daily Beast that the Santa Fe shooter’s Facebook account had been removed for the same reason.
Other websites have taken a slightly stronger stance. After a shooting at YouTube headquarters, the company in late March rolled out a new policy banning firearms sales, as well as videos on gun assembly. YouTube gave users 30 days to delete or edit videos that violated the new policy.
“While we’ve long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories,” a YouTube spokesperson said of the March ban.
The policy, which also prohibited links to sites selling firearms and accessories, was ill-received by YouTube’s sizable gun community, with users decrying the new rules as censorship. InRangeTV, a gun channel with some 144,000 subscribers, uploaded its videos to PornHub in protest.
Reddit earned a similar backlash from some of its right-skewing user base when it announced a similar ban on gun sales that same week, with users threatening to boycott the website, Bloomberg News reported.
YouTube and Reddit’s new policies were lax compared to the rules dating app Bumble rolled out that same month. Weeks after the murder of 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Bumble announced a ban on guns and other deadly weapons in users’ profile pictures. Rather than counting on users to delete or report pictures of guns, the dating app reportedly assigned 5,000 content moderators to wade through profiles and flag offending pictures. Bumble said it would make an exception for law enforcement or military members in uniform, and would not block pictures from users’ linked Instagram accounts.
But Instagram, like its parent company Facebook, allows most pictures of guns, unless they’re explicitly up for sale on the site. In January 2016, the two social media giants announced a ban on gun sales, which had flourished across the platforms. Other pro-gun pages, including pages for licensed gun dealers, were allowed to remain on the site, provided they were not directly selling the weapons.
Facebook also cooperates with law enforcement, which has an extensive history of making arrests based on users’ pictures of guns, even if those pictures did not violate the website’s policies.
Despite its relatively relaxed gun policy, Facebook has earned a reputation as anti-gun among firearms enthusiasts who accuse the platform of censoring their pictures. While social media sites were updating their gun policies in early March, a British gun enthusiast launched a Facebook clone called “Gunbook” specifically for gun-lovers.
The site’s creator David Scott claimed to CNN that Facebook users were "fed up with their accounts being removed or closed down if they even mentioned the word 'gun,’” and that “the Facebook algorithms were picking up certain keywords and causing accounts to be deleted.”
Scott’s claims contradict Facebook’s gun policy, which allows the posts unless the user threatens violence or attempts to sell a gun.