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Facebook shuts down, then restores social media feed of Nelson business

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By Peter W. Zubaty
Landmark News Service

A local business found itself caught up Thursday in the raging firestorm over gun control that is enveloping the country.
Sometime in the early morning hours Thursday, representatives of Kentucky Gun Company (KyGunCo) in Bardstown noticed its Facebook page had been shut down, with the social media outlet posting a notification that the firearms dealer had violated Facebook’s terms of use prohibiting gun sales between private parties.
“The last 24 hours, we were at the lowest of lows,” said Patrick Hayden on Friday afternoon.
Hayden’s family started KyGunCo — formerly Keene’s Depot — some 60 years ago. Hayden said the business’ presence on various social media platforms, Facebook chief among them, leads to about 15-20 percent of its sales.
The problem is, KyGunCo is a federally licensed firearm dealer, with all sales vetted through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. They engage in no private sales, which is what the change in Facebook’s terms of use was looking to stamp out on its site.
So Chris Swarts, KyGunCo’s marketing director, tried to contact the social media site’s user support department Thursday morning in an effort to convince Facebook to restore the firearms dealer’s page.
“They listed the reasons, none of which applied to us, so we were baffled,” Swarts said.
Swarts and Hayden think that whatever computer algorithm Facebook used to purge private gun sales and other firearms buy/sell/trade groups from its site somehow caught KyGunCo up in its web.
They couldn’t be sure, however, as getting a helpful response from the social media giant proved elusive.
“Being in the dark, it was challenging. It was stressful for sure,” Hayden said. “A lot of our competitors didn’t get scooped up in this. It wouldn’t be so bad if you actually had a way to communicate with Facebook.”
A message to Facebook by The Kentucky Standard seeking comment on the issue was not returned.
Unable to get in touch with anyone directly to plead their case, KyGunCo sought other means, reaching out to the popular blog TheTruthAboutGuns.com, which wrote a story about it, which was then shared by another blog, concealednaton.org.
“We really didn’t have any options, so we contacted some of the online gun blogs,” Swarts said.
From there, KyGunCo customers and Second Amendment supporters around the country picked up the ball and ran with it, using their own Facebook accounts to express support for the Bardstown firearms dealer, and to attempt to pressure the social media outlet into reinstating the page. Folks also called and messaged the business, expressing their support. The Hickock45 channel on YouTube — which has more than a million subscribers and also not long ago found its channel shut down in a similar fashion — posted a video in support.
“The response we got was overwhelming,” Swarts said, and Hayden said the controversy generated more new social media and other online contacts in 24 hours than it had in the previous year. Folks from Nelson County were especially supportive, Hayden said.
“The customers stepped up,” he said.
Trish Moore Skrine, who moved to Bardstown a decade ago from northern Michigan, found the whole incident troubling.
“My biggest concern is the targeting of U.S citizens pursuing the American dream of being a business owner. The biggest issue with gun ownership is (it is) a Constitutional right,” she said. “(A business’) Facebook page is a tool like billboards of the past. It is vital to use social media these days to help business grow. So when someone whom is opposed to gun ownership or believes guns are the blame during mass shootings, it just takes a complaint to the Facebook police to shut a business’ major lifeline down.”
The pressure brought to bear on Facebook worked, or, at least, as far as Hayden and Swarts can tell it did. Without warning Thursday evening, KyGunCo’s Facebook page was back up and running.
“We don’t know how or why it got turned on,” Hayden said. “(The customers’) input certainly didn’t hurt.”
After KyGunCo’s Facebook page was restored, representatives from the company posted messages of appreciation for their supporters, and Swarts was working on a video Friday thanking supporters for their efforts.
“We’re just very humbled by it,” Swarts said.
Hayden said he didn’t want to beat up on Facebook too much, as it is an important part of their marketing efforts toward informing customers about sales and other events at the business, which also includes an indoor target shooting range.
But as supporters of gun ownership and licensed dealers find themselves more in the crosshairs of the culture wars, Hayden said he understands Facebook can make its own rules for its own site, and he is making contingency plans with Second Amendment-friendly websites just in case the day comes when Facebook and other social media outlets decide to go all-in and prohibit even licensed firearm dealers from promoting their business on the site.
“I have a very strong feeling that this is just delaying the inevitable,” Swarts said. “Every policy change (Facebook) make(s) gets more restrictive.”