Private Facebook groups have “emboldened” sellers of illegal drugs and guns to connect with potential buyers over the social media site, Chicago police said Tuesday, announcing that a two-year undercover investigation led to more than 50 arrests. Police leaders accused Facebook of failing to help prevent illegal sales of guns. The social media company banned private sales, trades and exchanges of firearms in 2016, but investigators said they found dealers using private groups and messages to sell firearms and drugs at prices higher than street values, the Associated Press reports. First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio said Facebook agreed to shut down groups identified during the Chicago investigation but that it also should kick members of those groups off the site.
“Facebook often cites privacy concerns when they are confronted with the facts of our investigation,” Riccio said. “The truth is, Facebook is harboring criminals. These criminals know how to use the privacy Facebook affords them and they profit from the sales of illegal drugs and dangerous guns.” Riccio said police have been frustrated by Facebook’s removal of fake profiles that investigators use to pose as potential buyers. Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Pollack said the company quickly responds to “valid legal” requests from police. “Illicit drug and firearms sales have no place on our platform,” she said. “We remove content and accounts that violate our policy and catch over 97 percent of drug sale content and over 93 percent of the firearms sales content we remove before it is reported to us.” Charlie Beck, Chicago’s interim police superintendent, said that Facebook users’ privacy rights don’t “trump the rights of the general public.”