Facebook’s new Marketplace is already flooded with illegal guns, drugs, sex, and wildlife

You can buy hedgehogs marketed as “tame.”
You can buy hedgehogs marketed as “tame.”
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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This is why we can’t have nice things, internet.

When Facebook Marketplace, launched on Monday (Oct. 3), it was touted as a Craigslist-killer for its hyperlocal, community-driven online shopping experience. Users can buy and sell almost any physical object, as long as it isn’t illegal or banned by Facebook’s guidelines, which bar the sale of drugs, weapons, animals, and adult items.

Of course, within a day of its release, Marketplace was bombarded with illegal listings, for sex, guns, marijuana, baby hedgehogs, and more.

Facebook’s director of product management, Mary Ku, told Quartz in a statement that Marketplace initially encountered a technical issue which prevented its automated reviewing system from flagging posts that violated their commerce policies. “We are working to fix the problem and will be closely monitoring our systems to ensure we are properly identifying and removing violations before giving more people access to Marketplace,” she explained. “We apologize for this issue.”

As with abusive posts on the site, when automation fails to detect illegal goods, Facebook relies heavily on people to report items that pose concerns. Then the company reviews the complaints and takes appropriate action.

The classified ads service, which is prominently featured in the new shopping section of Facebook’s mobile app, doesn’t offer star ratings or reviews like eBay and Amazon, but it facilitates vetting via your Facebook friends who already know a seller. So far, Marketplace has been rolled out to iPhone and Android Facebook app users, aged 18 and above, in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Until now, most of the buying and selling has been taking place on different Facebook groups rather than a formalized section of the site. The social network has grappled with illicit sales—like unlicensed guns and drugs—within these groups. It seems those problems have cropped up in its new shopping feature as well.

In 2007, Facebook had launched a similar e-commerce project but it failed to gain traction. After two years, the Menlo Park company passed the reigns to the platform Oodle and let the feature fade into the background of its app directory. This time around, the company is hoping an already-established user base of over 450 million people who visit buy and sell groups each month will bring more success.