Facebook Eases Cannabis Shadow Ban on Verified Pages

Facebook Eases Cannabis Shadow Ban on Verified Pages

With Canada having recently become the world’s first major economy to fully legalize recreational cannabis, the standing status quo on pot policies at major companies are headed for significant change.

Facebook has become one of the first social media networks to pull back on censoring cannabis content. The site decided to partially reverse a regressive policy of hiding pot sites earlier this month, perhaps leading the way for other large-traffic sites to follow suit and treat cannabis as what it is: an increasingly legitimate business.

Facebook’s Summer of Shadow Bans

Over the summer and into last month reports circulated that Facebook and Instagram were “shadow banning” cannabis-related sites, meaning that the social media services allowed pot-related content to remain on their systems while also hiding the sites from searches and making them inaccessible except via direct link.

This sudden, shocking lack of visibility shook the industry, Marijuana Moment reported, with the “pages” of everyone from media outlet Marijuana Business Daily to government groups like the California Bureau of Cannabis Control ending up hidden overnight. Even nonprofits like the Marijuana Policy Project were put out of sight of interested searchers.

Cracking Down on Certain Keywords

Enforcement of Facebook’s policy was apparently shaky and let through searches for sites bearing related terms like “hashish” and even “weed.” The policy ended up having the biggest effect, it seemed, on obscuring official pages opting for the terms “cannabis” or “marijuana” in lieu of ban-evading slang. The shadow ban, many of the affected groups argued, was a regressive limiting of public access to official information even in an age when marijuana is becoming increasingly legal.

Shadow banning cannabis pages isn’t unprecedented, with Twitter having done the same thing to the pot community a couple of years ago.

Facebook’s own policy against cannabis advertising had long hinted at the shadow banning that was to come, with any marijuana content considered to be a violation of community standards. This is an attitude similar to other corporate ad policies like Google’s, which categorizes cannabis advertisements under “dangerous products or services.”

Working Around the Technicalities

Policies like these have led to a proliferation of marketing language tricks designed to get around cannabis advertising limitations, a matter of constantly trying to skirt the vague guidelines established by various ad platforms. Unsurprisingly, companies are often frustrated by trying to figure out how to connect customers with cannabis products when the product’s active ingredient and main keyword is unmentionable.

It’s a problem that DigiDay found even extends into the THC-free, “non-psychoactive” cannabis product space. With the CBD market alone projected to swell to $22 billion by 2022, Facebook seems to be realizing these blurred lines need an imminent solution.

On the Eve of Canadian Cannabis Legalization, a Policy Reversal

MarketWatch reported earlier this month that Facebook made the decision, days before the Canadian recreational cannabis launch date, to partly ease its shadow ban policy.

The social network service explained to MarketWatch that “marijuana-related search results for categories such as posts, pages, and events were [being] filtered ... because people had been using the platform to sell pot in violation of its policies.” Finally realizing that their tactics had instead closed off access to legitimate marijuana-related businesses and organizations, Facebook has decided that it will now allow verified Pages to show up in searches using these terms.

Sarah Pollack, a spokesperson for the site, told MarketWatch,

“We are constantly working to improve our search results so that we minimize the opportunity for people to attempt illicit drug sales while showing content that is allowed on Facebook and is relevant to what you are searching. When searching ‘cannabis’ or ‘marijuana,’ Pages that have been verified for authenticity will now be included in search results.”

Mason Tvert, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, relayed his relief to the publication, saying,

“It’s about time that Facebook caught up with the majority of Americans who think that marijuana should be treated as a legal product. … I think it’s a great development and a wise move by Facebook as it’s trying to reconnect with the online community that it has turned off in so many ways. … Hopefully this is the beginning of a broader evolution on this subject and hopefully, they will be starting to treat marijuana like other content.”

From the sound of it, non-verified cannabis pages without a blue or grey verification indicator will still remain shut off as search results, meaning that publicity may likely still be an uphill battle for many upstart cannabis companies.

Money Changes Minds

It’s also likely that Facebook, which has experienced a volatile year both financially and in the court of public opinion, will pull out all the stops when it comes to the opportunity to make some extra cash. If that means further updates to its cannabis policies, including widening its rules concerning pot advertising, be on the lookout for some possibly momentous changes in the future.