As Facebook continues to face scrutiny and criticism over its data collection practices, privacy issues and the spread of false and misleading information, the cannabis industry is joining the chorus of voices demanding the social media giant change its policies regarding the content that’s censored on its platform.
Along with advocates and regulators, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is calling on Facebook to stop blocking and banning cannabis-related content. But having gotten nowhere reaching out to the company itself, the NCIA is now crowdsourcing their discontent. A month ago, the group launched a change.org petition. And so far, it has received more than 20,000 signatures.
The NCIA’s petition demands Facebook stop censoring marijuana-related content posted by legal businesses and cannabis policy advocates. It’s an important cause, especially given Facebook’s popularity as an advertising and marketing platform.
But the ban on cannabis content doesn’t just impact cannabis businesses looking to advertise their products and services. It also affects advocacy groups, patient and caregiver groups, regulators and lawmakers. Facebook, at least ideally, is a platform for connecting people and groups and sharing information. But Facebook isn’t just censoring ads for the vape cartridges and delivery services. It’s also blocking content about educational and political events.
The NCIA’s statement on the change.org petition claims that Facebook has shadow banned the group’s ads and projects, even when they had nothing to do with marijuana products. The NCIA hosts annual Lobby Days in D.C. to meet with lawmakers about marijuana policy reform. They also hold regional Quarterly Cannabis Caucuses throughout the U.S. Facebook blocked boosted posts about those events, too.
Facebook isn’t just censoring advertisements and cannabis event listings, either. It’s also blocking the results of marijuana-related searches by its users. As a result, someone looking for information about a local cannabis dispensary or a local advocacy group’s event haven’t been able to find any.
According to the NCIA, the search ban has blocked popular, well-known marijuana news sources and even posts from government agencies. Public health officials and regulatory agencies have had their accounts suspended or content banned even when the content simply aimed to inform the public about policy issues bearing directly on their lives.
The consequences of Facebook banning cannabis content are far-reaching. The platform’s actions hurt the industry, of course. But they also deny the public access to information and opportunities for civic engagement with the cannabis industry and their elected representatives.
That’s why the NCIA petition is demanding Facebook change course. The group wants to see Facebook end the discrimination against the industry and the cannabis advocacy community, including shadow banning of search results. It’s demanding fair warning, due process and evidence of wrongdoing whenever Facebook bans or suspends marijuana-related content. And it wants the platform to allow ads from legal businesses targeted toward of-age individuals.
For now, NCIA claims, Facebook’s policies and its actions run counter to those goals. And as of the time of this writing, 20,335 agree and have signed the petition. NCIA’s goal is 25,000 signatures. You can contribute your name here.