As the legalization of cannabis comes to Canada this week, Facebook has ended its “shadow ban” of cannabis-themed pages. Last week the social media platform announced the changes, which became effective on October 11. Prior to that time, search results were filtered to exclude pages with words such as “cannabis” and “marijuana” in the title. Even pages for government regulators like California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control were affected by the ban. Additionally, many cannabis pages were deleted without warning by Facebook.
Sarah Pollack, a spokeswoman for Facebook, told MarketWatch via email that the new policy will allow cannabis pages for legitimate businesses and organizations while minimizing illegal drug sales.
“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,” Pollack said. “When searching ‘cannabis’ or ‘marijuana,’ Pages that have been verified for authenticity will now be included in search results.”
New Verification Process
Pollack said that cannabis organizations and businesses who complete a verification process will now be included in results of searches of those words. The company will continue to monitor the platform to ensure it is not used for illegal sales of cannabis and other drugs.
“This is a change in our tactics when it comes to what is discoverable when using Facebook Search. Our Community Standards make it very clear that buying, selling or trading non-medical, pharmaceutical drugs, or marijuana is not allowed on Facebook,” Pollack said to Forbes. “People largely find this content that violates our policies by searching for it, so we have made it harder for people to find content that facilitates the sale of drugs on our site. We also look to make content that does not violate our policies discoverable in Search. We use a combination of the latest technology in search ranking and our team of reviewers who work 24/7 to minimize the opportunity for illicit drug sales. We’re constantly auditing and improving this process in order to do better.”
Social Media Struggles
Jacqueline McGowan is the director of local licensing and business development for K Street Consulting, a Sacramento based lobbying firm. She created a private Facebook group to track cannabis regulation in California in 2016, but intentionally left out any reference to marijuana in the name. McGowan told High Times via electronic message that Facebook’s new policy is a big change for the industry.
“Cannabis companies have struggled to keep their social media platforms alive for years,” McGowan said. “I’ve watched as countless pages and endless content have been deleted; and I knew from the inception of my group, that I needed to protect it from becoming obsolete. As a first consideration, not having the words marijuana or cannabis in my group’s title was much more important to its potential survival, than to boast that we track cannabis regulations. Survival became a much more vital goal and I have been able to maintain the group thus far, because of it. Now that Facebook has retreated from its restrictive stance on cannabis, we are becoming less handcuffed in our ability to inform, educate, and market to our audience.”