TTP Report: Meta Profits from Prohibited Gun and Accessory Ads
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2022
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report showing that Meta regularly approves ads for guns and gun accessories on Facebook and Instagram that violate its policies. TTP found 173 examples of ads with weapons-related content actively running on Facebook and Instagram during a two-week period in August. The findings are in stark contrast to Meta’s stated policy prohibiting ads that promote the sale or use of guns, as well as gun accessories that can enhance the function of a weapon. Meta only provides ad spending information for ads related to “social issues, elections, or politics,” but TTP discovered several purely commercial gun-related ads improperly tagged with the political label, allowing researchers to see that some individual ads were generating substantial revenue for Meta.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “When Meta is pushing ads for deadly weapons, the potential for harm extends far beyond its user base. Meta’s policies are nothing more than empty rhetoric unless it invests in the resources necessary to properly enforce them. These findings are further proof that the platform refuses to self-police in the absence of outside regulation.”
Disturbingly, some of the Facebook and Instagram ads identified by TTP marketed AR-15 style rifles—the weapon of choice for mass shooters in the United States—or accessories to use with an AR-15, with one ad for a rifle sight declaring, “EVERY AR-15 OWNER NEEDS THIS.” Other accessory ads—which clearly violate Meta’s ad policy prohibiting items “used with a weapon to enhance or customize its form or function”—included rifle grips, scopes, mounted lights, and speed loading devices, which promise to help reload a variety of magazines in under 10 seconds.
The findings raise new questions about the effectiveness of Meta’s ad review system, which the company has said “relies primarily on automated technology.” And they give insight into how much revenue Facebook is generating from these violating ads, with some gun retailers spending thousands of dollars on ad campaigns. For example, Texas Precision Optics has spent up to $90,000 on a single ad promoting a rifle scope on Facebook and Instagram since Meta allowed it to start running in May 2021.
TTP’s research also highlights transparency problems with Meta’s Ad Library. Only those gun ads categorized as having to do with “issues, elections and politics” are preserved in the archive after becoming inactive, making it difficult if not impossible to assess the full extent of firearms advertising on the company’s platforms. When TTP re-entered all 173 recorded ad IDs into the Ad Library 60 days after the start of the August observation period, 78% of the ads had completely disappeared from the ad library.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “By deciding that only a select few ads deserve to be preserved in its ad library, Meta is effectively hiding evidence of its ad review system’s shortcomings. These ads promote products that can increase the deadliness of a weapon—but it goes beyond guns. Anyone concerned with Facebook or Instagram ads across a variety of harmful categories should be troubled by Meta’s lack of transparency.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.