Alibi V.28 No.16 • April 18-24, 2019 

Cannabis Manual

The Social Media War on Weed

Avoiding the ban

smartphone

Despite the growing acceptance of marijuana across the nation (and especially in California), tech companies seem to have it out for the plant.

You might have noticed that several cannabis companies have been quietly banned by YouTube, Facebook and Instagram over the last year. While the online giants technically allow dispensaries and producers to have a voice on the platforms, both have rules against promotion of the use and sale of “drugs.” This means that dispensaries can have profiles, but they can't advertise sales or sell directly through the apps.

Let's take a look at the policies as they stand. Facebook's advertising policy states: “Ads must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs.” Examples of content that violates the policy is anything that advertises “drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs, rolling papers, and vaporized delivery devices.” Under their commerce guidelines, business owners are told that posts made to the site “may not promote the sale of illegal, prescription or recreational drugs.” Marijuana is specifically mentioned in the section.

Instagram's policies state that “offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms and illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is … not allowed.” That parenthetical comment seems to target legal cannabis.

YouTube, while not strictly a social media site, is another place where cannabis business owners and enthusiasts are being deplatformed. According to its “Policies on harmful or dangerous Content,” videos that aim “to encourage dangerous or illegal activities that risk serious physical harm or death [are] not allowed on YouTube.” The rule is clarified with a list of content that is considered “dangerous,” including anything “that depicts people abusing controlled substances such as cocaine or opioids, or content providing instructions on how to create drugs.” For years, the platform was known as a friendly place for cannabis content until creators started receiving nebulous warnings of policy violations from the company and the subsequent removal of channels without explanation.

And YouTube's parent company Google seems to be just as wary of working with cannabis companies. Services like Google's AdWords and social media tracking are vital in today's world of online business, but are inaccessible to dispensaries because the company's policy considers “substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation or otherwise induce 'highs'” to be “dangerous products.”

“Google does not allow marijuana ads on either the display or search side [via our AdWords policies] because the product is illegal on the federal level,” Google spokesman Alex Krasov told CNET. "This policy is the same on the publisher side [AdSense].”

But enforcement of these policies has seemed inconsistent and questions about their value have been raised among the growing number of businesses becoming involved with the cannabis industry. Being locked out of social media means missed opportunities for companies to find reach for their brands and products, and they're understandably upset.

By far, Facebook has reportedly been the worst at shutting down dispensary pages and even activist pages that have nothing to do with a business. Some owners have even seen their personal accounts allegedly removed just for being associated with a store.

But for some reason, many cannabis-centric profiles and pages remain in operation on these platforms, seemingly without any problems. So how can you avoid having your cannabis business banned?

On Instagram, one thing you can do is turn your profile to “private.” This will keep your posts off of the “explore page,” making it less likely that they will be seen by minors or uninterested users who could potentially flag them. Every time a post is flagged, Instagram is notified. If you want to keep your head down, it's best to minimize flags.

For all the other sites and apps, there are a few ways to make yourself less of a target.

Do Not Sell Products

Advertising cannabis products (listing sales, prices or menus) or selling them directly through the app is absolutely off the table. It's also illegal. This extends to private messages as well, so make sure to redirect any questions to a private email or your company's website and never discuss sales.

Avoid Depictions of Consumption

Posting a video or photo of someone taking a hit off the bong is a surefire way to get your posts yanked. Never ever do it, no matter how much you might be tempted.

Be Conservative with Hashtags

Although hashtags make it easier for new followers to find out about you, it also makes it easier for the screws. Be considerate when choosing them (if using them at all), and keep in mind who's watching.

Share Articles and Resources

Instead of only posting about your business, share articles about the culture and science of cannabis. News sources are almost never considered dangerous.

If you do find yourself stranded and without a page, take the time to properly follow the company's appeal process. Sometimes you can get lucky and they'll reactivate your account. If not, try, try again. Make a new profile and change the name slightly with abbreviations or additional words. It's frustrating, sure, but in the current climate, you unfortunately have no say in the matter.

The good news is that change might be on the horizon as Facebook is reportedly reconsidering its policies in light of Canadian legalization and might start allowing companies to list pricing information, although it would still bar advertising and direct sales.

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