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Facebook Blocks Searches for Pages that Reference Marijuana—Even Those of Government Agencies

The platform is struggling to handle contradictory laws about legal and illegal use of pot

If you type the word "marijuana" into the search bar at Facebook today, you might be surprised at what comes up. Rather, you might be surprised at how little comes up.

Here's what you get when you look for pages with "marijuana" in the name:

Marijuana searchFacebook

There are, in fact, many pages on Facebook that have the word "marijuana" in the name. Some of them are activist organizations, media outlets, and even government agencies. But last night, Marijuana Moment writer Chris Roberts noticed that these pages are not showing up when you search on Facebook. The pages still exist, and if you have the URL for them, you can still visit them. But if you don't know where they are, Facebook is not going to tell you.

Pot CensorshipLarryrains / Dreamstime.comThis is what's called "shadow banning." Rather than deleting or censoring pages, Facebook is making them hard or impossible to find. Marijuana Moment is itself affected by the shadow ban. Here's their Facebook page. But if you type "marijuana moment" into Facebook's search engine, it was not coming up this morning. No groups, posts, or events with "marijuana" in the name come up on searches. News stories about marijuana do, but only video stories.

Roberts notes that social media sites have been struggling to figure out how to deal with marijuana content as the plant itself becomes increasingly legal:

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."

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.

This shadow ban went so far as to block searches for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, the agency that oversees the regulation of the legal recreational marijuana industry in the state. Roberts notes that their Facebook page is a clearing house of information on upcoming meetings and regulatory decisions. A spokesman told Roberts they have not gotten an explanation from Facebook as yet as to why this was happening to them.

Roberts reached out to Facebook for an answer as well, but hasn't yet gotten one. Reason also emailed Facebook's press office to find out if these shadow bans are intentional. We have not yet gotten a response.

Facebook, of course, has the right to decide what sort of content should be permitted on its platform. Allowing marijuana organizations and government agencies on the platform but then blocking them from search results, though, seems more like a thing they're doing to appease nanny-state and drug-warrior regulators who will accuse them of fostering criminal enterprise—even though allowing these pages to appear in search would hardly qualify. And Facebook is being increasingly put in a position where not responding is not an option. Even Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who helped craft the part of the law that protected internet platforms from being punished for illegal third-party content, seems to be weakening on his resolve.

Photo Credit: Larryrains / Dreamstime.com

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Facebook, of course, has the right to decide what sort of content should be permitted on its platform.

    Its shareholders might eventually think otherwise.

  • Number 2||

    How's that hate speech prohibition working for you? Or maybe Russian spies are now in the Cannabis business.

  • Longtobefree||

    Never use "social media", it is anti-social.
    Lesson learned?

    Didn't think so.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Grandparent to grandkid: Remember kids when there used to be this website called Facebook?

  • Juice||

    Facebook Blocks Searches for Pages

    I haven't been on FB in over 5 years, but if the search function is anything like it was then, it doesn't really matter. It was (still is?) totally worthless.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""This is what's called "shadow banning." ""

    We don't need a fancy name for censorship.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's not censorship. It's "machine learning" to "improve the conversation". Word still out on sarcasm detection abilities from hot young rock star coders who write apps to paste mustaches on selfies.

  • Brandybuck||

    It's just companies unclear on the concept of searches and links and shit like that. I have a similar problem at work where in an effort to crack down on social media use during work hours, has filtered out Facebook on the firewall. Which means I can't get to my health provider's website because it has a link to their Facebook page.

    If you're going to ban something, whether government or private network, ban the thing itself not the references to it. Which is exactly what is going on this story.

    Watching corporate admins or government bureaucrats trying to clean up the network is like watching a bad AI trying to learn: Keep trying random things over and over until you manage to take one step forward, then repeat.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    You need a better web filter or a better admin.

  • ThomasD||

    "though, seems more like a thing they're doing to appease nanny-state and drug-warrior regulators who will accuse them of fostering criminal enterprise"

    If only there was some sort of safe harbor that would let them avoid responsibility for the material that appears on their platform.

    Oh wait, there is. It just doesn't apply when they choose what material they allow to appear on their platform.

  • markm23||

    Better yet: Identify the politicians who pressured Facebook to do this and prosecute them for conspiracy to violate civil rights. They are censoring political discussions. If we can't cut this off in the courts, it's time to start hanging such traitors to the Constitution from the nearest tree.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Is that shadow banning? I was under the impression that shadow banning was somewhat more subtle.

    I got shadow banned in the comment section of one particular article at 538, and the way it worked was that my comments were perfectly visible, but only to me.. I had no way of knowing until I accidentally visited the site with the computer logged into my wife's facebook account, and none of my comments on that article were visible.

    That's the "shadow" part of shadow banning: If you log in under your own account, it's not supposed to appear any different. Only that other people won't see your content.

    Sad that we need this terminology for different approaches to censoring people without their knowledge.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    So if Reason did this, would they shadow ban Hinh or John? My money is on John. While I often disagree with him, he at least makes salient points. I think Hinh is akin to a room full of typing monkeys.

  • Rockabilly||

    Thank you facebook

    According to the DEA, the source of all wisdom for the marijuana, it's more powerful than ever and is a gateway drug to LSD, the most addictive drug ever known.

    During a Q&A, then president Obama was asked if he would re-classify the marijuana, he said, 'no way, man.'

    Obama should know, he smoked it in his youth and it messed up his mind, real bad.

    Hillary Clinton was asked about making marijuana legal, and she said 'there is too much money being made to make it legal.'

    So, there you have it.

    No searching on the Facebook for the marijuana.

    The government and higher officials say it's very dangerous because it's a gateway drug to LSD, the most addictive drug ever.

  • Thomas O.||

    Well, looks like FB isn't the hip, trendy company it once was.

    At least Twitter's not pulling sneaky shit like that.

  • Flinch||

    Fakebook does it again. What could serve their stockholders and the public better than to alienate half of America? Bunch of tools...

  • ohdelilah||

    Okay, it's 2 days later; I typed "marijuana" into FB's search bar and came up with a short list of pages and a slightly longer list of articles.

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