Social Media Giants Playing Favorites in the Cannabis IndustrySam Boyd
Are Facebook and Instagram Changing Their Ways Concerning Cannabis-Related Content on Their Platforms?
Looks like we’re in for a bit of a shake-up when it comes to online canna-business!
For the past few years, at least, one of the major obstacles for newer canna-businesses has been the question of how to approach the realm of social media. Historically, the major social media platforms have been resistant to host cannabis content, and typically reject submitted advertisements for cannabis and related products from appearing on their websites.
As for why they do that, the answer is fairly simple. Social media platforms make a lot of their money from ad revenue, and most social media websites make ad revenue from hundreds if not thousands of small companies looking to grow their customer base. Many of those companies sell products for children, or services aimed at people who have moral or religious objections to the use and/or legalization of cannabis in North America.
When those companies see their advertisements right beside a big ol’ weed leaf, they tend to make a fuss and threaten to pull their own ads from the site. The problem that creates for budding cannabis companies is this: that other companies have been there longer, paid more in the past for ads, and still outnumber the amount of cannabis companies trying to publish advertisements through those platforms. When they threaten to pull their ads unless the cannabis content is removed, the cannabis content will always get removed. Because the platforms running the ads make more money on the other stuff!
As much as it makes sense from a financial standpoint, many see the social media component as one of the toughest hurdles for new canna-businesses to overcome. How do you let people know about your business and create new customers when you can’t post about your business online? Word of mouth and traditional marketing can only go so far in the worldwide economy. Locally, you might attract attention, but for most that won’t be enough to break even. Most cannabis companies can’t even run a social media page of their own, even one that’s set to private and lacks any content that could be seen as solicitation. Many of these companies have pages taken down that never mention ‘weed’ or ‘cannabis’ at all.
That Doesn’t Seem Fair
Well, it isn’t. Facebook and Instagram will shadow-ban, pause, and at times outright delete accounts and pages with links to the cannabis industry, even when the companies in question operate in countries where the sale of cannabis is legal.
Canadian cannabis companies have their social media accounts deleted every day, and many have accepted this as simply the state of the industry.
Even major dispensaries and legal cannabis entities are regularly forced to recreate their social media presence from scratch every couple of months. It happens all the time, and reaching out to the platform in question rarely solves the problem.
This problem is largely one of moderation. What one person looks at and considers ‘fine’ for their website, another moderator might look at and see as ‘explicit content’. As a result, many cannabis companies currently have active pages advertising product for sale, even though their doing so is explicitly against their hosting website’s terms of service. Most of these get taken down in time, once someone else reviews the page because of a report, or due to significant changes in traffic. However, some are allowed to stay up for months or even years despite flagrantly breaking the rules of the website their pages are hosted on.
So, What Changed?
On their Facebook page alone, Rama Cannabis has:
- Uploaded pictures and posts about various offers and sales
- Advertised their grand reopening (and the in-store deals to take place on that day)
- Solicited sales of a specific cannabis product offered by their store
- Directed viewers to a separate storefront in order to purchase product
Any one of those four points ALONE would be enough for any other legal cannabis-related business to have their pages closed and their accounts deleted. This begs the question: Why is Rama Cannabis allowed to advertise their goods and services when other similar businesses can’t?
Are They Doing Something Different?
No, and that’s the problem! After going through the social media pages for Rama Cannabis, I can’t find any indication that they’re doing anything differently from the hundreds, if not thousands of other sites trying to run a cannabis-related business page on social media.
Most other pages that remain online for similar lengths of time to Rama Cannabis have done so by converting to ‘lifestyle pages,’ that never explicitly encourage sales or direct users to purchase the products or services pictured or posted about. This allows some companies to at least have a presence on social media, even if they’re forbidden from selling anything through the platform. Even then, these pages tend to be taken down quickly. There’s a distinct air from both Instagram and Facebook that they don’t want cannabis-related content on their platform whatsoever.
That only further begs the question, though: why Rama Cannabis? Why now?
Before I go any further, I’d quickly like to say that none of the fault for this should fall on Rama Cannabis, their owners, or employees. For whatever reason, Instagram and Facebook have selected them to be among the first cannabis companies to operate a corporate page on their platforms for the specific purposes of marketing and driving sales. I don’t know why that is, so any further discussion on the subject should be seen as hypothetical. From the outside looking in, there’s nothing about Rama Cannabis that differentiates them from any of the countless other cannabis companies trying to run a social media page for their business. As I pointed out before, however, it’s the fact that they’re no different from the others that makes all of this a problem.
Why Does This Matter?
It matters because the playing field of social media is no longer a level one.
Functionally equivalent companies deserve an equivalent chance to play ball. If one company can advertise their services and products on a platform, then they all should be allowed to. Otherwise, Facebook and Instagram have to provide an answer as to what makes Rama Cannabis different from any other weed delivery service? I looked pretty hard for that answer myself, and honestly, I couldn’t find it. If they’re doing something different, then it isn’t something obvious or visible. If the major platforms are OK with what they’re doing, but not OK with what so many other companies are doing, then it falls upon the social media platforms themselves to say why. So far, they haven’t.
That would be information that a lot of people want to know, after all. It should be public information, given the public nature of the platforms in question. Facebook and Instagram don’t have the power to decide which pages have to play by the rules and which ones don’t.
I, for one, would rather have that choice be made by customers than faceless corporations.