Snapshot|Commentary

Over the last few years censorship by social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become more prevalent and pervasive problem upon each respective platform. To the point where freedom of speech, expression, and thought are choked and siphoned out of the mainstream discourse of this nation. Regulating social media to the haves and haves not of popular American discourse. Creating a hierarchy of acceptable speech by these platforms while shunning others. This has created two desperately different narratives within our nation. To the detriment of our nation and our discourse.

Speech that has been protected has the same potential to be as volatile and destructive as the voices they seek to silence. This is a systematic and coordinated effort by these social media giants to de-platform content they deem as “unsuitable” or “offensive,” in any respect to their ideological perspective and monetary bottom line. Unfortunately, firearms meet that criteria.

Over the past two years, I have witnessed Instagram step up its actions against the 2nd Amendment, gun rights, gun content, resources, and firearm education on its platform. Now, the moderators have focused their attention on Lucas Botkin of T.REX Arms.

The Banning Of Lucas Botkin

Last week, FRAC shared a post on Instagram with a picture of Lucas in tactical gear and his rifle on the range. Reading the caption you discover that Instagram had removed his account with over 400,000 subscribers and it was under review and faces permanent deletion of his account.

The firearms community on Instagram was aflame with news on the removal of Lucas’s Instagram page from the social media app. After making a backup account Lucas addressed the account removal and that he was actively fighting the ban. That review and litigation could take up to a month. Until then he would continue to use all his current social media available to him and keep moving forward with T.Rex Arms. This removal of Lucas’s account isn’t even the most recent example of censorship by Instagram that affects the firearm community.

In the last few months alone we have seen Garand Thumb, Nighthawk Customs, and Noir’s The Pew Pew Life page has had their accounts removed and reinstated. At the time of removal influential Youtuber Garand Thumb had over 500k followers, legendary firearm manufacturer Nighthawk Custom had over 290k followers, and The Pew Pew Life had over 70k followers.

During this year alone, Instagram has handed out community strikes or attempted to ban companies such as: Nighthawk Custom, Q Rifles, SLR Rifle Works, Sons Of Liberty Gunworks, Primary Arms, G-Code Holsters, and many more.

They have also given out strikes and attempted bans to content creators such as: Garand Thumb, Colin Noir’s The Pew Pew Life page, Iraqiveteran8888, Lineage Defense, Rogue_Texan1, Whiskey.Savage, and many more.

All these accounts just listed from companies to content creators have at minimum at least 30k followers to upward to 900k. Colin Noir’s is the highest at over 900k.

These accounts and Lucas’s potential ban are examples of Instagram’s censorship of firearm related content and how it seeks to limit the exposure of influence upon its platform.

The attack on Lucas is another blatant attack against the firearms community and one of its most influential voices. Facebook has made it clear in past statements that our constitutional rights to free speech and the right to keep and bear arms is not a right on their platforms. Instagram’s parent company Meta sees itself as a Global social phenomenon. A phenomenon that seemingly acts outside of this nation’s jurisdiction of governmental influence and regulation. The company makes moves without fear of government intervention or regulation. Facebook is dynamically evolving their community guidelines to achieve that goal. The goal is to purge freedom of speech, expression, and firearm related content from its platform.

The Facebook Method

The way that Facebook slowly edges the firearms community towards the precipice of the cliff is through their dynamically shifting community guidelines that are inherently biased to the firearm community. Guidelines that put the community between a rock in a hard place in the terms of compliance to these restrictive guidelines put in place by Facebook.

Facebook community guidelines for firearms is as complex and as difficult to understand as most ATF regulations are. It is not meant to give clarity but ambiguity into the interpretation of the policy instead. Facebook seeks to use this ambiguity in its community guidelines as catch all policy. This vagueness allows them to moderate any content it deems offensive under the company’s guidelines. Which in turn makes it harder for the firearm industry and community to be in compliance under those policies.

Facebook’s Policy on Firearms

First, let’s look into Facebook’s community guidelines in regards to firearms to get a deeper understanding of the complexities of Lucas’s situation and what other creators must deal with to remain viable on Instagram.

During my investigation I could not find clear cut community guidelines on firearms. Most of the information from Facebook was in regards to advertising with firearms. So, we will look at 3 different articles from Facebook to get a summation of their policy. Policy that is vague at best and convoluted at worst. Which makes the understanding the policy that more difficult for its users.

Facebook’s General Policy On Firearms

First, let’s discuss Facebook’s general policy on firearms. It is simple and straight to the point. In their policy firearm content and it’s discussion are generally allowed upon their platforms. Just like any normal mundane post. The issues begins when it comes down to the selling, trading, or purchasing of a firearm. You are not allowed to sell, trade, or purchase a firearm on their platforms. You are allowed to conduct giveaways and raffles only if it falls into certain criteria that will be discuss in detail later within this article.

Restricted Good and Services Policy

Now, let’s transition and investigate Facebook’s Restricted Goods And Serivces Policy. A simple breakdown of that policy is that brick-and-mortar and online retailers can promote firearms, alcohol, and tobacco products on their platforms but, any actual sales must be sold off platform. Content of this nature will be restricted to 18 and up. Further in the article Facebook explores in greater detail what cannot be posted advertisement while providing very specific caveats when it would be allowed.

What You Can’t Post on Your Facebook AD

You cannot post content that attempts to buy, sell, or trade firearms, firearm parts, ammunition, explosives, or lethal enhancements.

• You cannot attempt to gift or donate firearms, firearm parts, ammunition, explosives, or lethal enhancements expect in these capacities:

• Donating, trading in or buying back ammunition by a profile who has a brick-and-mortar business, retail business, law enforcement and governmental agencies. (Essential a authorized buy back program)

• An auction or raffle by an brick-and-mortar business, retail, or governmental agencies or non-profits are allowed.

• Under this policy from Facebook you cannot: “Sell, gift, exchange, transfer, coordinates, promotes (by which we mean speaks positively about, encourages the use of) or provides access to 3D printing or computer-aided manufacturing instructions for firearms or firearms parts regardless of context or poster.”

So, understanding this one is pretty straight forward. It is that business either an actual brick-and-mortar business or an online retailer they can create an advertisement about their products but cannot sell them on the app itself. The only exemption is doing a sponsored buyback program, auction, or raffle by a business, government-sponsored organization, or a non-profit. That is the policy when it comes down to advertising on Facebook when it relates to firearms. We are not done with the investigation of the advertising policy, the plot only thickens when we investigate further.

Facebook’s Alternate Ad Policy

Lastly, there is another article on what you can and cannot advertise per Facebook ad policy standards. This article is more precise and to the point.

This article is very interesting into the investigation into Facebook’s ad policies. I discovered this abbreviated article with bullet points describing what is acceptable and what is not under Facebook’s ad policy. But, it also adds a few things like what you are allowed to promote under the ad policy when it comes to firearms which are: safety courses, firearms training, plastic guns or weapons, hunting, holsters, safes, self-defense courses, and protective items.

What it does not allow are: firearms, firearm parts or accessories, silencers, weapons of any kind (including i.e. pepper spray, knives, batons, and etc), no scopes or red dots, or mounted weapon flashlight.

Essentially, firearm manufacturers or content creators can’t post any advertisement in regards to their business because by default they deal with firearms. If they were just trying to promote their company or brand they can’t because it inherently deals with firearms. It just leaves these business and creators handicapped. Leaving these companies and brands unable to grow their audience and reach more people. Leaving many between a rock and a hard place on how they attend to grow their audiences on social media.

What is even more interesting is that Facebook said you can’t advertise these items. Yet, you can make normal firearm related posts on your account in regards to firearms. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be true because firearm companies and creators have seen Facebook issue community guidelines strikes for normal firearm related content. Such examples as posting a picture of an firearm, firearm accessory or optic. Under the current policy structure these are acceptable yet, they are not treated like such. The are treated as violation of community guidelines and can be used as strikes to justify and build a potential case to band their respective accounts.

Many companies and creators have received these community guidelines strikes and faced bans. Companies like F1 Firearms, Nighthawk Custom, Q Rifles, and Sons of Liberty Gunworks, Faxon Firearms, Atibal Optics.

While content creators such as Garand Thumb, Forward Observations, Whiskey.Savage, Iraqiveteran8888, Rogue_Texan1, and Frogman_Actual to name a few faced the same type of strikes and or bans. All these entities received these strikes for non-advertisement posts on firearms.

So, it begs the question does this prohibited items list for advertisements apply to normal posts? The answer to that question seems to be a “Yes”. It is due to the way, Facebook’s moderators enforce this policy on something that clearly doesn’t apply to the policy they wish to invoke.

At the end of the Facebook policy states you can post about firearms in general and it doesn’t break any policy guidelines. That raffles and giveaways can be done by these businesses and content creators. Yet, time and time again these business and creators have been given content strikes from Facebook on normal posts which I delved into earlier. Then, when it comes down to enforcement of these policies Facebook hands out community guideline strikes that can lead to potential termination of their accounts. Leaving the community and creators like Lucas between a rock and a hard place. Most of this enforcement of policy is conducted in a retroactive manner which we will discuss next.

Retroactive Enforcement

When it comes to enforcement of these firearm policies it is always seems to be done retroactively. Instagram moderators will give community guideline strikes to posts over a year old. I have seen community guideline strikes as far this back as 2018, that where handed done recently. When these strikes come down from Instagram they are retroactive in nature. Many companies and creators share these strikes with their audience. While also advising them to follow their backup page in case the main page gets deleted.

In the recent cases of Garand Thumb and Nighthawk Custom they shared with the community the strikes in question and the potential ban forthcoming from Instagram as they challenged the validity of the strikes before them. Lucas has also shared strikes his page has received previously and how he challenged the validity of those strikes.

The perception that I see is that Instagram moderators are playing fast and lose with their policy on firearms. It seems that they are using advertisement policy to issue out strikes. That if not mediated in the account holders favor can accumulate and can lead to a ban of their account.

These community strikes are done retroactively to build a case to de-platform
firearm companies and content creators. They are acting as prosecutors trying to build a case for guilt to present to the judge at a pre trail hearing. While the account holders act as the defense attorney defending their client against the criminal accusations by the prosecutor. The mission of the prosecutor must be to build a case with evidence collected, present a pattern of behavior, or show potential causality to commit the crime. If not the judge will throw out the charges. The prosecutor job is to build a case against the defendant. Just as the moderators do against businesses and creators.

All, these moderators are doing this by retroactively giving out these community strikes is to allow for justification for these bans by gathering evidence and creating a pattern of behavior of the account holder. Which would give justification for the ban of the account. This retroactive enforcement and complex and obtuse verbiage of the policies make it hard for companies and creators in the community to avoid the ban hammer.

Conclusion

Facebook and Instagram have made it clear that they don’t want you to have freedom speech or expression outside of approved ideological narratives they agree with. They don’t believe in your right to keep and bear arms and to self defense. The tech giant seeks to crush speech, thought, and firearms from their platforms. They are removing content slowly and incremental not to arouse suspicion of their objectives. Also, not to cause a catastrophic uproar that could damage their bottom line.

The suspension and potential deletion of Lucas Botkin’s account was a long time coming. It was a systematic and coordinated attack to build a case that would give his potential ban validity. Through obtuse and vague guidelines, constantly evolving policies, and multiple strikes on his account. Slowly, building a case where he would face the weight of the ban hammer.

Within the community Lucas is a divisive figure. He is either loved or hated. Respected or loathed. A genius or a heretic. No, matter how you feel about Lucas or his company this is an attack on our community and our freedoms. An attack on one is an attack on all of us.

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