A group of cannabis businesses in Tulsa say they have been negatively affected by social media bans, and they are no longer taking the alleged discrimination lying down. Led by the Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe, eight dispensaries have announced that they are suing Facebook executives over what they call “a pattern of targeting the Oklahoma medical marijuana industry.”
The companies are asking for a court order that would prevent the social media site from further targeting their pages, and $75,000 in economic harm.
“Facebook has an arbitrary, subjective, discriminatory and archaic policy and their policy does not apply to all,” reads the lawsuit’s complaint. “It is just random. Or at least it appears to be random. There is no way for an individual or a business to contact anyone within Facebook to get assistance. They hide behind their keyboards and mete out whatever punishment they feel if they find that you have committed an infraction to their subjective community standards.”
The Tulsa businesses say that Oklahoma cannabis companies have been unfairly targeted. “The defendants pick and choose what is against community standards and what is not,” wrote the lawsuit’s original plaintiff, Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe owner Danna Malone. “They do not have a set standard.”
For its part, Facebook has not yet responded to the petition, or local media’s requests for comment.
Efforts to combat shadow banning are often frustrated by Facebook’s obtuse customer service policy, which often sends boilerplate responses to the subjects of bans. Lacking specific information on why their pages no longer show up in searches, businesses are left to flounder.
The social media network’s actions are particularly infuriating given that it made a big deal about changing its policy towards cannabis businesses last year. In advance of Canada’s federal legalization of marijuana, Facebook announced that it would no longer filter cannabis companies out of search results as long as they took the necessary steps to get verified on the platform.
“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,” said Facebook spokesperson Sarah Pollack at the time. “When searching ‘cannabis’ or ‘marijuana,’ pages that have been verified for authenticity will now be included in search results.
Facebook has a long history of censoring cannabis pages, and a very sparse history of explaining those policy decisions, which appear to be based partly on a very spotty understanding of legalities. In February, a Tucson family business reported being blocked several times from promoting their their hemp tamales, which are not even made from a federally controlled substance since last year’s passage of the new US Farm Bill.
For many cannabis entrepreneurs, though, it has made sense to take several steps back from any social network-reliant business strategy in the face of such challenges. In a Forbes article published in May, Jessie “The Cannabis Nurse” Gill said that she’s no longer sinking time into social media: “It feels smarter to spend my time focusing on SEO and email.”