What’s up with Facebook’s recent shadow ban on cannabis?

What’s up with Facebook’s recent shadow ban on cannabis?

Facebook users recently discovered their searches for “marijuana” and “cannabis” no longer display results.

Here’s what happened when CannaContent conducted a search of the term “cannabis” on Facebook on August 4, 2018:

Nothing. Plain ‘ol nothing. So, what the hell is going on?

Marijuana Moment reported on Aug. 1, 2018 that Facebook pages, groups, and events – including pages managed by government entities and regulatory bodies to disseminate key compliance information – no longer appear in search results. While those already engaged with a certain group, page, or event can see its content, those outside cannot find it easily. Yet again, a social media platform is causing difficulties around cannabis. And it sucks.

This phenomenon is called a “shadow ban” (sometimes written as “shadowban”). What exactly is a shadow ban? Why did Facebook enact a shadow ban? What can you do to promote your business or brand on Facebook while the shadow ban is in place?

What is a shadow ban?

A shadow ban is when a social media platform allows a page or profile to continue posting content, but that content will not appear in search results. The user often does not know that their content is subject to a shadow ban. They continue to post as normal without repercussions.

These types of bans are used to curtail the attention paid to a certain profile or subject. Facebook and other social media platforms use it to curb the spread of spam. It has also been used to quash the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation.

Once a shadow ban is in place, there’s no warning or indication that it’s been set in motion. People simply figure it out when their content experiences a significant drop in engagements.

Why did Facebook enact a shadow ban for cannabis?

As of the writing of this blog post, Facebook has yet to officially clarify why the shadow ban was enacted. However, social media platforms discouraging or outright banning cannabis content is nothing new.

Federal policy, social media, and cannabis content are at constant odds. Facebook’s advertising guidelines outline that platform users cannot “constitute, facilitate or promote illegal products, services or activities,” with an additional clause that ads cannot “promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription or recreational drugs.” Twitter, Instagram and other platforms have similar policies. (It’s important to note that these restrictions can apply to hemp-derived CBD and hemp products as well.)

Despite these content and advertising bans, cannabis communities flourish on Facebook, sharing information, education, and yes, plant-touching and ancillary business information. These communities and pages are so active that it can be easy to forget that posting is technically against the rules. This just happened on YouTube earlier this year, when thousands of cannabis videos were removed when a review found that those videos violated the platform’s terms of service.

Considering the other actions Facebook could have taken – suspensions and deletions are not uncommon – it really could be worse. Your page, groups, and events are likely still up and running. It’s the discovery of new content that the shadow ban will likely affect the most.

So, how can you navigate the shadow ban’s murky waters?

How can cannabis businesses navigate Facebook’s shadow ban?

  • Use hashtags… for now. Normally, using a hashtag on Facebook won’t make much of a difference. As of the writing of this blog post, content appeared in search results when a hashtag was placed in front of the keywords #cannabis and #marijuana.
  • Share content within your networks. The shadow ban did not delete groups, pages, events, and the like from Facebook – it just makes them extremely difficult to find. You may need to work a little harder to deliver content to your intended audience for the time being, so take advantage of the tools already at your disposal. Share your next sale or testimonial with a cannabis-centric Facebook community you already joined.
  • Explore the “related” column. As of this writing, the “related” column attached to events, groups, and pages is still producing cannabis-related results without any special tricks. Exploring this channel can help you discover other cannabis-centric communities on Facebook. While you’re at it, share those groups, events, and pages themselves with other “cannapreneurs” to help them expand their networks.
  • Do a quick audit of your business profile. Make sure your page is not blatantly breaking one of Facebook’s rules against promoting “illegal” products. While the shadow ban and your images are not directly related, it only takes a scary and uncertain change to remind the cannabis community that these platforms are not as safe as we thought.
  • Use related keywords that aren’t shadow banned. As of this writing, slang like “420” and “weed” is still searchable, and related terms such as “bong” came up as well. These searches will likely reach different audiences than “cannabis” and “marijuana,” but these two groups do have some overlapping interested users.
  • Step it up on other platforms. If Facebook is Goliath, then Instagram is David gearing up a slingshot. The visuals-driven platformadded 200 million daily active users between September 2017 and June 2018, and its cannabis community is thriving. There are millions of posts associated with the #CannabisCommunity and #Weedstagram hashtags. If your business or brand is not as active on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or other platforms, this may be a good time to experiment.

Will Facebook’s shadow ban on cannabis last forever?

As of this writing, it is not yet clear if this is a temporary experiment or a permanent change. Facebook has yet to make any official statement.

To take down thousands of pages that share valuable education, opinions, and information isn’t exactly good press, especially now that Facebook is suffering from one controversy after another. Is a shadow ban Facebook’s way to satisfy legal obligations while still allowing the platform’s users to post information? We won’t know until there’s an official answer from someone at the company, but what we do know is that there’s a hell of a lot of precedent for Facebook to do so.

In the event that the shadow ban is lifted, simply continue with your regularly-scheduled programming. In the meantime, maybe you’ll find a new way to effectively promote your business.

The Costly Mistake of Criminalizing Cannabis Possession

The Costly Mistake of Criminalizing Cannabis Possession

It’s been a federal crime to possess, cultivate, or distribute the cannabis plant or any products derived from it since the 1930s. The law enforcement policy built around the criminalization of cannabis has become a behemoth, arresting between half a million and 750,000 people per year for possession alone.

For many, a possession arrest isn’t as simple as paying a fine and moving on with life. The consequences for such a small action can haunt someone for years and decades, preventing them from advancing their careers, finding housing, and contributing to their communities. Now that 30 states have legalized medical marijuana, and nine have legalized social use for adults, more are realizing – and advocating for – records expungement for those convicted of cannabis possession, a group that totaled 8.2 million through the first decade of the 21st century alone.

Who gets arrested?

Cannabis possession arrests in the U.S. are not evenly distributed; some states arrest far more people than others, while others hardly arrest anyone (thanks to legalization). In 2016, Wyoming was the state with the highest arrest rate, at 415.2 arrests per 100,000 people. That figure includes a total of 2,248 possession arrests. New Jersey was home to the second highest arrest rate at 400.4 arrests per 100,000 citizens, and third for total possession arrests at 32,263. South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Missouri rounded out the top five states where you’re most likely to get arrested for cannabis. New York had the second-highest number of total possession arrests at 36,977, while Texas was far and away the leader in total possession arrests at 63,599.

Justice is not colorblind when it comes to cannabis possession, either. People of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds tend to use cannabis at the same rates. However, arrest rates are far higher for people of color than for white people. Black people are about three times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis possession, depending on the region. In New York City, black and Latino men comprised 86 percent of cannabis possession arrests between 2014 and 2016.

The steep consequences of cannabis possession arrests

Most cannabis-related arrests are for the possession of a small quantity of flower. In fact, cannabis possession busts were estimated to account for five percent of all arrests in the U.S. in 2016 – that’s more than murder, rape, assault, and robbery arrests combined.

Having a record associated with a non-violent cannabis arrest exacts a significant penalty. Mandatory minimum sentences and a three-strike policy have contributed to harsh punishments for merely possessing a small amount of cannabis for personal use. Here’s a look at consequences for violating federal cannabis possession laws:

  • First offense: This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and up to $1,000 in fines.
  • Second offense: The federal penalties for a second offense increase to a 15-day mandatory minimum sentence and up to two-year prison terms, as well as a $2,500 fine.
  • Third offense: For a third arrest, possession could be considered a felony. It carries a 90-day mandatory minimum incarceration sentence, up to three years in prison, and a $5,000 fine.

It doesn’t just stop at fines and imprisonment, however. The punitive system for non-violent drug offenses can follow someone for years, or even decades:

  • Possession charges could result in a person losing his or her academic scholarships, barring otherwise motivated and intelligent people, particularly people from disadvantaged and poor communities, from attaining educational opportunities needed to advance their lives and their communities.
  • Past convictions could result in the denial of mortgages or business loans, preventing people who’ve answered for their non-violent crime from owning a home or business.
  • A criminal background check conducted by an employer could preclude a previously convicted person from attaining employment, regardless of their qualifications for the job.
  • Previous possession charges could result in the loss of public benefits, compounding poverty in communities most harmed by the War on Drugs.

Legalization and automatic expungement

Legalization could ameliorate some of the most severe consequences of cannabis arrests. For starters, fewer people are being arrested, preventing new people from facing the challenges that others before them have faced and reducing the taxpayer expense on enforcement.

In Colorado, arrests fell by more than 80 percent from 2010 to 2014, when the first retail dispensaries for legal cannabis opened. In Washington state, arrests fell by 98 percent between 2012 and 2013 following legalization, resulting in a savings of over $200 million in taxpayer funds spent on enforcement. The same trend was observed in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.

While legalization has improved conditions considerably in many states, it has not necessarily undone the injustices of the past. Those convicted of possession charges still contend with the difficulties of finding a job, obtaining a loan, or obtaining public benefits. As legalization is normalized, however, states are grappling with how to best deal with those with prior convictions.

In California, for example, adult felony convictions related to cannabis were reclassified as misdemeanors following the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016. However, those charges still carry the potential for up to six months in jail, and convicts must first petition the courts to have their sentences revised accordingly. The state legislature is working to improve conditions through consideration of a bill that would include automatic expungement for a prior conviction for an act not considered a crime as of January 1, 2017.

In New Jersey, where an active effort to legalize adult-use cannabis is underway, advocates have been pushing hard for lawmakers to include automatic expungement in the legalization bill. Advocacy organizations like New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey have all called on Garden State lawmakers to include automatic expungement in any final legalization bill. New Jersey State Assemblyman Jamel C. Holley (D-Union) has been a vocal supporter of automatic expungement legislation as well.

Healing wounds caused by criminalized cannabis possession

For states to truly correct the sins of the past, it is essential for any cannabis policy reform to include automatic expungement for people arrested or incarcerated for cannabis related crimes. That ensures those who were prosecuted by the state will be retroactively forgiven and, ideally, allowed to enter the newly legal market as an entrepreneur or employee without a criminal record.

While many states are responding to the popular support for legalization, the federal government has neither changed the classification of cannabis nor the penalties associated with cannabis arrests. Today, cannabis remains a schedule I drug under the Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification, which means it is considered a drug with “high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use.” That means federal authorities could arrest someone for possession and the strict consequences would still apply, regardless of state law, no matter how noble or liberal the state law may be.

The cost of criminalizing cannabis is immense, both financially and socially. So long as federal prohibition remains in place, people will be fined and incarcerated for non-violent crimes at a rate that exceeds violent crime nationwide. States can and should work toward legalization and automatic expungement, but a comprehensive policy that legalizes, regulates, and taxes cannabis, as well as expunges the records of those convicted of non-violent offenses, is a social, economic, and moral imperative.

How Will Voice Search Impact Your Cannabis Business?

How Will Voice Search Impact Your Cannabis Business?

The rise of voice search is on the minds of every cannabis marketer, as voice assistant technologies continue to influence how your customers search for products and services online.

One in six people in the U.S. owns a smart speaker such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home. That influence carries over to smartphones, with 44 percent of speaker owners engaging their phone’s voice assistant feature more frequently out of habit. When all is said and done, experts predict that half of all internet searches will be conducted by talking to Siri or Alexa by 2020.

While 2020 may seem far away, that time is not a luxury: organic search takes months to shift, and that means preparing for future trends around the bend. Being ahead of the curve ensures that your business stays on top in this increasingly-competitive cannabis industry, and voice search and cannabis is the perfect place to begin.

What does the rise of voice search mean for cannabis businesses?

People speak differently than they type. A customer looking for a dispensary in Massachusetts’ soon-to-be-legal adult-use program, for example, may type “dispensary near me” or “buy marijuana Boston” into a search engine. However, someone speaking to a device may ask, “Alexa, where can I buy weed in Boston?” or “Siri, what’s the best cannabis dispensary in Cambridge?”

The key term here is ask. (What a throwback: we haven’t asked Jeeves in years.) Internet searches have become conversations with our devices, asking questions of our voice assistants in our regular, everyday voices. This means that cannabis slang such as “weed” or “pot” may rise in popularity as a search term in the months and years ahead. The difference looks subtle to most, but it represents an enormous shift for search engines.

Voice search also impacts local search results, which is especially relevant for plant-touching enterprises that rely on a regionally-locked customer base. Serious customers want to act — where can they go and what can they do right now to get the information, product or service they need. Since most voice search technologies pull results from local listings, business owners can capitalize on reaching the local market. Voice search and cannabis truly are the perfect fit!

  1. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Whether you’re a new cannabis business building a new website or redesigning an old website, it’s an absolute must to be mobile-friendly.
  2. Claim your Google My Business and Apple Maps listings. Google is still by far the most-used search platform, and Google places great emphasis on your complete and up-to-date Google My Business listing. A customer that asks about your dispensary’s hours of operation, for example, will prompt voice search to locate your Google My Business listing.  Plus, more than 85 million people in the United States own iPhones, which makes an Apple Maps listing just as important as Google My Business. It’s one of the most productive steps to take for optimized voice search and cannabis businesses.
  3. Claim your other local directory listings. If your business was automatically listed on platforms such as Yellowpages.com, make sure to “claim” these listings and fill them with relevant information. Make sure your business also appears on cannabis-focused directories such as Weedmaps.
  4. Brush up on your website’s FAQs. Many website have a “frequently asked questions” section. Since people ask questions of their voice assistants, properly optimizing your FAQs will go a long way in helping to pair your webpage with the searcher’s inquiry.
  5. Ask questions in your content and answer them directly. Pull a Jeopardy! and turn your statements into questions. Instead of writing “Menu” on your dispensary’s menu page, for example, write “What’s on [name of dispensary]’s menu?”

Organic search techniques are always evolving. The best way to stay on top is to stay ahead of the curve. When you work with CannaContent on your organic search strategy, web design, content, social, or brand identity, you’re working with professionals who work on the cutting edge, constantly incorporating new developments and putting them to work for your cannabis business. Got a project in mind? Get in touch today — or ask your voice assistant to do it for you!