The Big Problem With Cannabis Censorship On Social Media

The Big Problem With Cannabis Censorship On Social Media

This article was originally published on WeedTube and appears here with permission.

Arend Richard

WeedTube CEO

As the cannabis industry and community continue to grow with recreational legalization across 18 states, social media platforms like Instagram have taken a confusing and undisclosed stance on the subject of cannabis content. Though Instagram has specific rules against advertising the sale of cannabis, there are no defined rules around content featuring cannabis without intention of sale. That means pictures, videos, and reels featuring legal cannabis and its use by hard working creators and brands that offer services and information relating to cannabis. So why then have we seen within the last year alone, countless accounts suspended or deleted without warning on the app. Some of these now deleted accounts, created by legal operating businesses and content creators, also carried with them the coveted “Blue Checkmark” verification badge given to them by Instagram itself. WeedMaps, a verified account that shared cannabis knowledge and resources, was removed from the platform with 530k followers on December 22nd, 2021. WeedMaps is one of the most trusted resources in cannabis information and deals online. There was no warning given or opportunity to adjust the content they had shared in order to remain on the platform, which is the case for the majority of accounts that are terminated.

So what gives, Instagram? WeedTube.com is a platform founded to protect content creators against the cannabis censorship of YouTube, and was recently deleted from Instagram for a second time with just under 200k followers. Once again, this deletion came without any prior warning. Bloomberg shed the mainstream spotlight on this issue with an article posted last September. When Bloomberg asked for a statement on the deletion of WeedTube’s Instagram profile, Instagram had no comment to give. However, the account in question was reactivated the day the story was published. Despite the dozens of appeals that had been submitted, it appeared that only when a mainstream outlet questioned Instagram that anything could be done. 

There’s no issue with social media platforms restricting certain types of content because they are private companies; it is their right to do so. TikTok, for example, has strict guidelines against even the discussion of cannabis. If you reference weed, use a hashtag relating to it, or show any sort of paraphernalia in your video, the content will be removed and your account may be disabled. An across the board ruling like that of TikTok is one that can be understood by all users and immediately discourages creators from attempting to grow a following there relating to a  forbidden subject. The issue is that Instagram  seems to pick and choose which accounts and businesses are allowed to see success on their platform. Which brings multiple issues to light:

It Limits Fair Market Share

Instagram’s policy prohibits “attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade” marijuana. Then why would a page for a brand like @BuyWeedFromWomen be disabled when their primary goal is not to sell cannabis but to encourage social equity within the cannabis space. Not a single piece of content can be found “attempting to sell or trade” cannabis. The content that’s there is simply promotional content for their brand to engage with their community. 

When actually taking these considerations of the “Instagram Policy” into account, one must ask why profiles like @ignite are still allowed to be on the platform and perform well. The content on their page may not immediately scream “WEED!”, though dab rigs and the occasional joint smoking can be seen there. But their “Link in Bio” quite literally takes you to a marketplace for cannabis related products that they sell. The entire page could be considered to be “an attempt by a manufacturer to sell marijuana”. The same could be said for @libertycannabis, a page entirely devoted to the promotion and sale of legal cannabis. This is not to suggest that @ignite or @libertycannabis be removed from Instagram, but simply to point out the discrepancy in the execution of Instagram’s own policy on cannabis related content. Two companies that do not sell weed have been deleted, while two others that do remain open and thriving. 

It Gatekeeps Cannabis Information

This all begs a bigger question too: What part will Instagram play in the facilitation of cannabis access and knowledge once federal legalization takes place? Will companies be able to buy favor with the platform to capitalize on growth as legal limitations subside? 

As more people turn to the internet with questions about first-time cannabis use, platforms like Instagram hold great power in gatekeeping what cannabis information thrives on their site. Resource hubs like WeedMaps being silenced changes the type of unbiased information a new cannabis patient has access to. It is crucial that cannabis information hubs exist to strictly educate and inform, rather than just suggest and sell. 

It Stacks the odds Against Social Equity

The cannabis industry struggles maintaining diversity in its owners, operators and investors. Many state programs including California and Maryland have attempted to remedy this situation with social equity programs to boost opportunity for minority owners, but these efforts are futile if small cannabis businesses are unable to fairly promote on social media platforms. While Big Cannabis like the aforementioned @ignite and @libertycannabis pages are allowed to thrive, small businesses struggle with Instagram to maintain good standing. 

If small businesses are doomed to account shutdowns and shadowbans, how can social equity programs be expected to survive?

2022 is the year for the cannabis industry to demand clarity from Instagram on the future of cannabis content. We can’t keep playing a game where the rules aren’t equally enforced. As our industry rapidly expands, it is imperative that cannabis information is freely and abundantly available to those who seek to learn more.

Posted In: contributorsmarijuanaCannabisSocial MediaOpinionMarketsGeneral

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