Facebook will temporarily stop showing ads that “promote weapon accessories and protective equipment in the U.S. at least through Jan. 22,” two days after Inauguration Day, according to a statement by the company.
The social media platform had been showing ads for military equipment, like body armor and gun holsters, to users who were engaging with content promoting misinformation about the presidential election and news about the Capitol riot, according to an article by Buzzfeed News. Ads for weapon accessories were also being shown to people who followed right-wing extremist pages or groups on Facebook, according to the article, which cited data from the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Facebook’s move comes after concerned employees and users of the social network noted an uptick in placement of the ads. Facebook already prohibits ads for weapons and ammunition, the company said, but it is extending that ban to related equipment over the next few days.
Much of the planning for last week’s attack on the Capitol was conducted in the open on social media networks, including on mainstream sites like Facebook and Twitter, and also on lesser-known sites used by the far right such as Parler and Gab.
U.S. senators and other elected officials wrote letters this week urging Facebook to remove the ads from its site, either permanently or at least until after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration.
“Facebook must hold itself accountable for how domestic enemies of the United States have used the company’s products and platform to further their own illicit aims,” Senators Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, all Democrats, wrote in a letter on Friday to Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, urging the permanent end of the ads.
“Whether through negligence or with full knowledge, Facebook is placing profit ahead of our nation’s democracy,” the senators said in the letter.
The attorneys general of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois and Washington, D.C., asked the company to pause ads for the sale of weapons accessories and military gear until after the presidential transition, citing security concerns in another letter on Friday addressed to Will Castleberry, a Facebook vice president.
“We believe that Facebook’s micro-targeted advertising of such gear, including to audiences that have an affinity for extremist content and election misinformation, could promote and facilitate further politically motivated attacks,” the attorneys general wrote.