Cannabis companies are being shadowbanned on social platforms. Photo credit: Lightspring.
Back in 2018, social media site YouTube went on a tear, hunting down cannabis-related content all throughout the platform. Dubbed the “Cannabis Purge of 2018,” reports Green Entrepreneur, hundreds of influencer accounts and channels containing cannabis-related content and media were shut down at an unprecedented rate, with zero reasoning or explanation.
Unfortunately, despite the vast progression of cannabis, it appears that this censorship is continuing to this day.
What is Happening?
The main censorship tactic of social media platforms nowadays involves shadowbanning. Shadowbanning is a form of censorship that essentially blocks audiences from viewing or interacting with a company’s content. Additionally, this takes place without informing the content-creators, so they have no idea that the platform has blocked them from the public eye. With limited traffic among these companies comes lower potential for monetization, or the ability to make money on posts and other content.
For example, on Instagram, a shadowbanned company/account will no longer appear in searches and will no longer pop up on the Discover page. Even users that are already following an account may start to notice that there are no more posts showing up on their feed. This means that the company will start to lose their current engagement, as well as miss out on any potential engagement.
Why is it Happening?
So, why has cannabis-related content been the main target for censorship on various social media platforms?
First of all, cannabis is still a Schedule I substance, and it is federally illegal. This inevitably leads to a blanket-ban regarding the substance on social media sites. Most platforms have a strict policy regarding illicit or illegal drugs.
For example, Facebook holds a strict prohibition against any form of promotion or advertising of drug products whether they are legal or not, according to the platform’s advertising policies. They do not allow any text or imagery relating to such substances. They will remove posts or entire accounts with such imagery. Also, the same policies apply to Instagram, considering Facebook acquired the platform in 2012.
Another large social media platform, Twitter, also prohibits the promotion of drugs, including paraphernalia, or anything associated with drug use. However, this does vary by country. In Canada, for example, only approved cannabis advertisers can target its citizens. This is not the case in the U.S. though, as according to Twitter’s policy, only approved CBD topical advertisers are allowed to target users in specific states.
These anti-cannabis-promotion policies that are in effect for the biggest social media platforms give these sites plenty of leeway to censor and ban accounts/users who promote cannabis-related products as they please.
The Effect on Companies and Their Audiences
Inevitably, these policies cause serious damage to cannabis-related companies.
On April 21st, numerous cannabis advocates took to social media to share their contributions for #Canna4Climate, a movement started by WeedTube that encouraged the cannabis community to give back for the cannabis holiday 4/20 and Earth Day (4/22).
Nearly every participant experienced a shadowban.
Richard noted that during the week of the #Canna4Climate event, his Instagram account received just a tenth of its typical engagement, he writes in Green Entrepreneur. It was a loss for both the account and its followers.
One event participant, MacDizzle420 (currently at 429k followers), received 20k fewer Instagram story views than usual after sharing the event, showing that shadowbans even affect accounts with large followings, Green Entrepreneur reports.
While this was the first time Richard experienced a shadowban on Instagram; it wasn’t the first time a platform banned him. In 2018 YouTube removed his channel. That prompted Richard to help create WeedTube.
When asked whether censorship will continue after federal legalization, he says, “for some. I believe Instagram will continue to suppress small businesses and creators on their platform beyond federal legalization.”
“[…] Big business cannabis brands have an in with Instagram, and I believe those who know the right people or who can afford to advertise with the platform will continue to be successful,” Richard he tells Emerald. “However it’s crucial to note here that the issue is with the small business community of cannabis brands on Instagram.”
To avoid such issues, Richard says, he encourages others to use “platforms built for the cannabis community and industry. Everyday people would do well to participate in platforms and foster a unique culture and experience for their users outside mainstream platforms that monetize your attention.”
What Can Users Do?
Alice Moon, cannabis marketing professional, also experienced censorship due to cannabis-related content. Back in 2016, she found that Instagram shut down her account at around 14,000 followers, reports Yahoo. This summer, she experienced censorship again.
This time, she decided to wait 48 hours before submitting an appeal. Instagram restored her account just two hours after submitting her request.
Sometimes all that is required is to speak up and protest.
For companies on social media, hashtags are important. They are one of, if not the biggest way to pull in followers and increase interaction.
For instance, one Instagram follower, Jasiek Pokrop, explains on NapoleonCat that “with a little over 5,000 followers, I was able to get 30,000 – 100,000 single post visitors who came directly from the hashtag browser.”
In other words, hashtags drew nearly 76,000 people to Pokrop’s posts alone.
Platforms know this, and keep an eye out for hashtags such as #cannabis, #weed, etc. Therefore, companies have to get a little more creative with their content promotion. To get around this, companies will often use pseudonyms, like #cannab1s or #w33d for example.
Lindsey Burret, a writer for Forbes mentioned in an article that these tedious tactics seem successful; they work as a temporary get-around to the hashtag-hunt and shadowbans.
Another method for companies to avoid censorship is to become strictly educational. Upon scanning platforms like Instagram, one may notice that many cannabis accounts with large followings post informative or educational content including information on things like effects, legality, scientific-breakthroughs, etc.
For example, take a look at High Times Magazine’s Instagram. As a well-known cannabis-related company that’s undoubtedly in the spotlight. However, audiences may notice that much of their content contains product reviews/rankings and news regarding cannabis-related scientific discoveries.
Time for Change?
Regarding the individual, one course of action one can do right away is either start or join a movement. Advocacy is seemingly the largest driving factor in halting and reversing shadowbans deployed by various social media platforms.
Despite movements such as #Canna4Climate resulting in the shadowbans of various participants, they still get the word out. Once more people start to notice and give attention to platforms censoring innocent content, there will be more incentive for them to make a change to their policies.