Is Facebook Blocking Marijuana-Related Searches?

A report suggests the website is "shadow-banning" certain organizations that post cannabis related content.

Is Facebook Blocking Marijuana-Related Searches?
Photo by Simon via Pixabay

Facebook is allegedly up to some super-secret plot to prevent pages with the words “marijuana” and “cannabis” in the title from showing up in its search results. Although the targeted listings have not been disabled, a report from Marijuana Moment suggests that the social media giant is “shadow-banning” certain organizations from the platform that blatantly represent the cannabis trade and the fight to dig the cannabis plant further out of the pits of prohibition. This dust up was uncovered earlier this week after the California Bureau of Cannabis Control discovered its page was affected. It was later determined that cannabis media outlets Marijuana Moment and Marijuana Business Daily, as well as advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project also did not turn up when entered into the Facebook search.

However, it does not appear that every pot-related page is victim to the supposed shadow ban. Pages like Cannabis Now Magazine, Cannabis Culture and even the First Church of Cannabis are still turning up without issue. Others pages representing sites that publish almost exclusively marijuana-related news and features, like The Fresh Toast, High Times and Snoop Dogg’s Merry Jane remained unaffected, as well.

But there is no doubt that when “marijuana” is entered into the Facebook search bar, nothing shows up but the message “We couldn’t find anything for marijuana.” Whether this is an intentional move on the part of Facebook or just a technical snag to be sorted out in the near future is not yet known. The social media company has not responded as to why this is happening.

Journalist Chris Roberts, who penned the shadow ban piece, explains that Facebook and other social media platforms have been struggling for years to figure out how to handle pages dedicate to marijuana, which remains illegal at the federal level.

“Advertisements for marijuana businesses or advocating cannabis use are regularly blocked on Facebook and other social-media websites—including Instagram, which is also a Facebook property—for violating community standards, which ban the sale of “illegal drugs”,” he wrote.

“Algorithms often block promotions for news articles or other noncommercial posts that merely mention “marijuana” or “cannabis,” a situation that often requires lengthy appeals processes to clear automatically flagged content that doesn’t actually violate terms of service.”

Social media platforms have been causing trouble for the cannabis community for sometime. Last year, Twitter temporarily blocked searches pertaining to marijuana. So it is possible that Facebook is experimenting with a similar policy shift. Yet, as Roberts points out, “Users accessing Facebook via the iOS app have been able to find cannabis-related pages they already follow on the main search results tab, but tapping the “Pages” tab yields an empty result.” This is likely an indication that the geeks in Facebook’s coding department are just stoned.

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