CULTURE

Why Does Instagram Censor the Cannabis Community?

“Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.”― Mark Twain
“Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.”― Mark Twain /

In the digital age of 2022, social media is power, and Instagram is one of the undeniable heavy hitters in this regard. 

While the app began as a means for people to share photos and not much else, it has since evolved into a global tool for brands and companies to gain exposure, share their message, and even make sales – as long as you follow the app guidelines.

However, things get a little gray when a social media app starts calling the shots on what makes the cut and what doesn’t – and if you work in weed, you’re likely to be under fierce scrutiny. 

Consumers, operators, advocates, brands, and nonprofits alike are forced to tiptoe around Instagram’s vague anti-cannabis policies in order to connect with their audiences, and more often than not, they’re shut down anyway. 

Meanwhile, depictions of guns, alcohol, and opioids regularly make their way onto the IG feed with no issue. So, why is that? 

Cannabis and Instagram: A World of Shadowbans, Deleted Posts, and Disabled Accounts

Instagram’s terms and guidelines around cannabis are as follows:

“Instagram doesn’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country. Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, or by using the ‘contact us’ tab in Instagram Business Accounts. However, we do allow people to include a website link in their bio information.”

This reads as clear, concise, and quite fair. The app is internationally accessible, and cannabis isn’t even federally legal, so restricting sale of the plant via Instagram makes complete sense. 

However, Instagram’s policy doesn’t state anything about allowing people to post content with cannabis pictured, yet the app hasn’t been shy about removing these types of posts with no warning, no explanation, and no chance for redemption.

From sneaky shadowbans to deleted posts to accounts removed entirely, Instagram continuously attacks the cannabis community, despite most operators’ compliance with the platform’s only clear rule surrounding the plant: don’t attempt to sell it.

“Instagram will let you build a following and then rip your whole career away from you and not explain,” said TheWeedTube CEO Arend Richard in an interview. His firm’s Instagram profile was disabled without explanation after carefully building a feed with hundreds of collaborators and creators posting cannabis content – never selling.

“We have no idea why we were deleted. We had no warnings, or anything saying we had violated any terms or conditions.”

Instagram Censors Cannabis; Promotes Alcohol, Extreme Dieting, and Opioids

Richards definitely isn’t alone in this experience or sentiment. Cannabis consultant Veronica Castillo turned to LinkedIn to rant about Instagram’s unfair attacks, writing:

“I made a comment with a picture of me smoking #cannabis and someone reported it ? if I posted with a handful of pills- I’d be celebrated- someone sponsor my trip to Mars! I don’t belong here ? ppl really are sleep walking ???”

Castillo isn’t wrong: while Instagram is quick to restrict accounts posting plant-related content, the platform is known for allowing posts about the sale of diet pills, laxatives, and other extreme diet plans that are incredibly dangerous and possibly fatal. 

Meanwhile, a plant that is globally recognized for promoting health, wellness, and spirituality is repeatedly attacked and censored. 

Cultivation and production manager Daniel Crawford shared his experience on Castillo’s LinkedIn post, commenting:

“One of me and my wife smoking a Jay stating I’ll never forget my friends with weed when I was in need, was removed last week.”

There’s really no way to justify the removal of such a post, considering Crawford wasn’t trying to promote a cannabis brand or persuade his followers to consume the plant, let alone buy a specific product from him. 

So why would this have been deleted?

This remains the burning question in regards to Instagram and cannabis posters, especially those who are just trying to gain a following and spread the word about the incredible work they’re doing in the industry. 

Canada-based cannabis marketer Colin Bambury recognizes Instagram’s inane restrictions as one of the biggest headaches for the industry.

“Before [the industry expanded], if a cannabis brand got deleted, it was a big deal,” Bambury said in an MJBizDaily interview

“And now, basically everyone I know in the cannabis industry has had an account deleted at some point.”

In the same interview, writer Kate Robertson included the fact that MJBizDaily’s Instagram account had also been shut down for a short period in June 2021. 

This issue is becoming increasingly common, but the most infuriating piece of the puzzle is Instagram’s refusal to impart any information on why these accounts and/or posts are actually being targeted in the first place.

Instagram Bans: App Guidelines, or Rivaling Brands at War?

While some experts believe the app is using their algorithm to flag cannabis posts via hashtag or image type, others credit these repeated attacks to the industry itself, claiming brands have become competitive enough to blow the whistle on their rivals. 

Of course, the answer could be as simple as this: cannabis isn’t federally legal. As frustrating a fact as that is for industry insiders and advocates, it does explain why a $100 billion social media platform wouldn’t want to touch the industry with a ten-foot pole. 

But in the same vein, it’s obvious that cannabis is steadily making its way towards federal legalization in the near future, and has definitely validated itself as a legitimate industry with plenty of room for expansion.

It would be wise for Instagram to align with cannabis’s bright future sooner rather than later, but just as it’s impossible to figure out exactly why the app deletes cannabis-related posts in the first place, it’s hard to imagine a world where cannabis is truly normalized across all platforms.

In the meantime, the industry unfortunately must continue finding loopholes and looking out for one another in this regard. 

While it does make strategic sense to try and box out a rivaling company from reaching a wider audience, the cannabis industry is in a unique position where no one can afford to get too competitive until the plant is fully destigmatized and regulated.

Until then, brands owe it to each other – and to the cannabis community as a whole – to combine forces rather than attempt to tear each other down before the industry has reached even a percentage of its full potential. 

Cannabis still has a long way to go. 

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