The challenges facing the cannabis industry on social media applications, including Instagram and Facebook, have reached a critical point.
It has become increasingly common to see cannabis industry brand pages with massive and dedicated followings being deactivated for violating community guidelines. Due to strict “illegal drug” guidelines and the fact that marijuana is lumped into this category regardless of operations in fully legal states, Meta, the company that owns Instagram and Facebook, has cracked down hard on cannabis. Even using the best tips and guides to avoid deletion and shadowbans on social media, businesses and influencers get flagged left and right.
What can be done?
Competition on social media is fierce
For years, folks in the legal weed industry have speculated that companies deliberately use the “report” feature on many social media apps against their competitors in the space.
Are Cannabis Brands and Influencers Really Weaponizing Social Media?
“100% yes,” says Tammy Pettigrew, a cannabis educator and business owner with huge social media following as The Cannabis Cutie. “I really think competitors are using this as a tool to weed out their competitors. When cannabis brands have things taken down for hate speech and bullying, as soon as they’re reviewed they say it was a mistake. My account has been deactivated 5 times. All but 1 of the posts I deleted were a bullying and hate speech offense. Frankly, that’s awesome.” Pettigrew was on stage for Core Conversations at the Hall of Flowers speaking of this specific subject.
Pettigrew offers advice on diversifying your digital portfolio to deal with the issues cannabis brands face at Meta. “You can’t allow these companies to control your business,” says Pettigrew. “If I lost my Instagram, I would be in trouble. Create a newsletter, create a blog, grow as much as you can. Try not to be at their mercy.
A new cannabis-only app offers a solution
Cookies founder Berner and cannabis tech company Weedmaps have concocted a solution: a brand new social media app dedicated to the cannabis community. “As a leader in cannabis technology, we were asked by Berner to be the technology partner for their new cannabis-friendly social media platform. social club,” says Chris Beals, CEO of Weedmaps. “The goal of the Social Club app is to create a social community specifically for cannabis consumers, growers, businesses and more.”
Beals believes that the Social Club app, which will be available to people aged 21 and over and slated for launch in the second quarter of this year, “showcases the continued evolution of the fusion of cannabis and e-commerce. The app is launching in beta as we speak.
For the tech giant, the social media dispute is personal. Weedmaps’ own Instagram account with more than 539,000 followers was deactivated in mid-December 2021, then reactivated in late January 2022. The deactivation was the result of Instagram’s community guidelines, Beals explains.
“Given that cannabis is still largely banned from most major marketing channels, Instagram’s deactivation demonstrated the ongoing censorship that cannabis companies continue to face,” says Beals. The CEO says Weedmaps has been “shadowbanned” for many years on Instagram, and the hashtag #weedmaps has also been banned. “We wanted to tackle the ongoing issues facing Weedmaps and other cannabis companies, and so decided to create a timed digital Super Bowl ad spot. The intent behind creating the ad was to highlight the challenges imposed on the industry, including marketing obstacles, such as social media censorship and the lack of consistent advertising regulations.
When it comes to weaponizing these social media platforms, Beals is skeptical. “I think what’s more likely is social media companies stepping up their moderation around cannabis,” he says. “One of the reasons I’m so excited to see the launch of Social Club is the ability to have a space to post cannabis content without having to worry about what action you’re going to have to take to prevent your account from not be banned – that in itself is a significant step forward for safe and real conversations about cannabis.
A petition to bring Meta to the table
Arend Richard’s company, WeedTube, was founded as a safe space for cannabis content, in part to find a solution to this growing frustration and strict regulations on digital platforms. Richard recently started a petition for Instagram to loosen its regulations on the cannabis industry. The Change.org petition has garnered over 1,000 signatures to date.
“The purpose of this petition is to bring Instagram to the table to start an open dialogue about how best to move forward with the legal cannabis industry,” says Richard. “The current application of their ‘policies’ does not seem to have any sense of consistency.”
Does Richard think cannabis can receive recognition and solutions from Meta platforms? Yes, because they already do it, selectively.
“If Instagram just had a 0 tolerance policy for canna content, like TikTok, then I would suggest the industry find new ways to advertise,” says Richard. “However, many cannabis-related brands are already recognized by these platforms. The problem is that these are usually corporate entities with a lot of money behind them.
The petition’s digital goal is to reach 1 million signatures. Tapping into the mainstream audience would allow him to achieve his goal. “I like to dream big,” says Richard. “Our WeedTube platform has seen over 5 million unique visitors since launching our new technology in 2019, and that’s without spending a dollar on marketing our brand. The community is here to get the million signatures. Will- That easy? Not at all. But I’m not going to let that stop me from trying. 1 million people would show Instagram that the cannabis community is all about business.
This systematic change will not happen without a fight. “Instagram has already started deleting posts and accounts just for sharing the petition,” says Richard. “The cannabis industry and the community need to come together now to make these changes and these solutions happen,” says Richard. Otherwise, he fears, “we’ll put this industry back in the hands of big business when federal legalization takes place.”
Cannabis insiders are hoping changes are on the horizon with Amazon and Apple signaling support for the industry, but Richard warns these big companies run the risk of crowding out small business owners. Access to social media is also a matter of equity.
“This Instagram petition is just one piece of a much larger puzzle ensuring fair and equitable opportunities across the industry,” says Richard.