Social Media’s War on Marijuana

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Who doesn’t love a good weed-photo on social media? Those perfectly lit and like-garnering images are a nug of happiness when you’re scrolling down your timeline. That picture, however, might have had quite the battle to grow past the shadow-banning and restrictions of social media. But, despite the struggle, it’s here. Social platforms welcoming it, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.

Social media’s newest barrier toward cannabis-lovers comes from Twitter. The social-powerhouse has flagged specific search terms in reference to the cannabis industry. If users search the term ‘marijuana’, it leads to a ‘Help is Available’ message along with the number to the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration. They claim it was an effort to curb substance abuse and addiction. Alternatively, the ‘help’ message doesn’t appear for references to alcohol or tobacco, despite them being the direct cause of death in millions of cases a year.

Weed on Social Media

Twitter has been working with a federal government program to flag searches on marijuana. At the moment, words such as ‘cannabis’ and ‘weed’ are safe. In the coming weeks, however, well see if that changes. The presumptuous ban doesn’t apply to words such as “beer”, ” wine”, “alcohol”, ” tobacco”, or “cigarettes”. The Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) claims the campaign is about substance abuse as a whole and providing help to those who need it. 

With that being said, it seems they only deem cannabis to be a substance prone to abuse. When you look at the facts and numbers, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Controlled Substance Act still perceives weed as a highly addiction substance with no medicinal value regardless of anecdotal evidence and proof to the contrary. Alcohol, on the other hand, is nowhere to be found. This is despite it being proven in excess to cause diseases, sickness, and even death both directly and indirectly.

If that weren’t enough a 2019 SAMHSA survey showed that patients were typically in centers for combined alcohol and drug use. Upon further investigation, these patients were predominately opioid-users, not cannabis consumers. No information on their site proves cannabis is more harmful; but, the Twitter ban would have you believe otherwise. 

“It is not surprising that SAMHSA would be behind stigmatizing content like this, but it is surprising that a platform like Twitter would allow them to co-opt entire search terms, regardless of a person’s reason for searching for them.” 

Matt Sutton, Director of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance; Marijuana Moment

Sutton is right! It is surprising for a social platform to make such a stand against cannabis. Especially considering the exclusion of any other substance from the “resources” they are providing. It may seem harmless but, in the grand scheme of things, this could be detrimental to up and coming cannabis brands and entrepreneurs. 

Marijuana’s Social Dilemma

The cannabis community as a whole has been fighting censorship since markets started going recreational in 2012. Censorship is the internet’s newest hangup but the effectiveness of their methods always seem to miss the mark… completely. Social media flags and blocks led to shadow-bans for accounts. Usually, if not corrected by a series of tedious tasks and begging your followers for engagement, an account deletion or suspension soon follows. As a result, a brand or person can lose all visibility, all connection to their consumers, as well as their foothold in the algorithm that keeps them growing. Cannabis already has it hard enough as we can not utilize most of the same advertising and marketing services as the rest of the business world. Going through this, is the last straw for many. 

In the end, you have to wonder why it’s only cannabis getting treated this way. Social media as a whole is a celebration of over indulgence. You can scroll through myriads of binges from substances proven to kill with as little as a warning. And yet, ‘marijuana’ can’t come to the party at all. Weed and social media is a marketing match made in heaven. The stigma keeps it from living up to what it could, socially or financially.

Some are waiting for the rules to federally change others are braving the storm regardless. But, what does that mean? Creators have been forced to build their own platforms, like The Weedtube, with niche advertising to fix the issue. In the reality where the federal government will gladly take tax money but refuse to offer the benefits of a tax-paying company, it seems to be the only option. For cannabis, what will the last straw be?

Joycelin Arnold

Joycelin Arnold

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