You’ve got to speak up if you want change. And, in a time when, according to CNBC, “the U.S. cannabis industry could grow to $20 billion by 2022 from $800 million this year,” thanks in large part to the 2018 farm bill currently awaiting the president’s signature, you might want to skip right to shouting.

In Sept., during a speech at HempX, Bob Crumley, of Founders Hemp, projected the two-year-old North Carolina industrial hemp industry alone would surpass $120 million this year, even after a hurricane destroyed entire farms.

In an industry growing that fast, it’s maddening for business owners when their reach is threatened. And that is what Facebook and it’s subsidiary Instagram do when they close business Pages without warning or deny advertising to cannabis, hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) companies.

The Carolina hemp industry is grappling with that uncertianty as the battle to publish educational information, news and products offerings continues, via social media, anyway. And, according to an exchange with a Facebook representative, it doesn’t seem to matter that the 2018 farm bill will become law on Jan. 1.

You’ve got to speak up if you want change. And … you might want to skip right to shouting.

Followers Matter

This week, we reported that Franny’s Farmacy’s Facebook Pages were removed from the social media platform and that such actions are a trend in the cannabis industry. While we’re happy to report that Franny’s pages are back online, Bess Byers, also mentioned in the article, says that her Instagram account has been closed for the eighth time since August.

At one point Byers had over 90,000 followers on Instagram. Today, she has roughly 15 percent that number. And those numbers are important because they can translate into dollars.

Small businesses of all kinds count on social media to develop brand recognition and draw customers to their store fronts, brick and mortar or virtual. Customers search social media profiles for their website links, hours of operation, directions, contact information, sales and events.

Facebook has become such an integral part of our society that in some cultures it is “the internet.” So it’s absurd to think that having your Page “shadow banned,” or for it to disappear completely, even for a short time, doesn’t do quantifiable harm.

Facebook admits mistakes were made

Franny’s Farmacy’s Pages were taken down and she decided to shout. She contacted me because I’m a journalist and amplyfying the voices of The People is part of my gig.

Shortly after publishing our story about this cannabis-Facebook snafu trend, a company representative responded to a request for comment to say that she’d look into the matter and get back with us.

Well, Facebook’s Sarak Pollack made good on her promise so now I’m making good on mine to share what she wrote.

[Below: She also offered some tips.]

Regarding Franny’s Farmacy’s Pages, here’s Pollack’s entire response, but let’s break it down below:

Following up as our team was able to investigate what took place with these two (2) Pages.

Our Community Standards explain that we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers, and retailers to purchase, sell, or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, and marijuana. While we understand that there are different laws and regulations across the world for these substances, we build our policies for a global community and given the borderless nature of this community, we try to enforce our policies as consistently as possible.

While the Franny Farmacy Asheville Page did post select content that violated our policies, the Page had not met the threshold to be unpublished. As soon as we identified this mistake, we restored the Page. The content we removed for violating our Community Standards is still removed but the Page is now available.

The Franny Farmacy Henderson Page was incorrectly unpublished by our automated systems. As soon as we identified this issue, we worked to restore the Page, which is now available as well.

Thanks again for reaching out and appreciate your patience as the team investigated this matter.

Let’s start with the italicized paragraph (emphasis mine). Read that as “we’re CYA-ing because cannabis is regulated differently in various places.” And, in their defense, current laws are inconsistent and confusing.

In the next ‘graf, Facebook maintains Franny’s Farmacy posted something that violated their policies. Neither side offered an example of the offending post, however, as we reported Monday, Franny Tacy, owner of the Asheville-area hemp stores, says, “Being an ex-pharmaceutical rep, there is no way we posted anything that violates Facebook’s terms of service.”

“We make no claims, we make no recommendations … but we do use the words hemp and CBD and those seem to be becoming trigger words as well,” she says.

Unfortunately, intention rarely matters when bots are involved, and Facebook is telling us that some of the snafus are caused by automated processes, not humans being jerks.

The Franny’s Farmacy team followed the necessary steps to get their Pages restored and felt ignored, and they weren’t going to stand for it.

As I said at the start: Sometimes you’ve got to shout to be heard.

[For the policy wonks: The hemp-related portions of 2018 Farm Bill. (PDF)]

Facebook’s advice for using Facebook

Pollack, the Facebook representative I’ve been cooresponding with, was kind enough to respond  again when I asked her to go beyond “read the terms and conditions” and help the Carolina hemp industry around the learning curve.

With that, I am, again, going to publisher her entire note so nothing gets lost in translation. (Emphasis hers.)

I’d suggest that companies review the policies we make available on our site as follows:

Next, we have been rolling out the ability for people to appeal our decisions when we remove a piece of content for violating our policies. If your photo, video or post has been removed because we found that it violates our Community Standards, you will be notified, and given the option to request additional review.

This will lead to a review by our team (always by a person), typically within 24 hours. If we’ve made a mistake, we will notify you, and your post, photo or video will be restored. We encourage people to request an additional review if they think we made a mistake.

Lastly, just wanted to share a few more nuances about our policies:

  • Our policies do not preclude people from discussing cannabis and its potential benefits or advocating for its legality. We allow people to post this content in regular posts, as well as advertisements.
  • However, content and advertisements that looks to promote the sale of cannabis or cannabis-related products, including purchasing medical marijuana cards, do violate our policies.
  • For hemp specifically, we do allow the advertisement of any non-ingestible hemp products without CBD. However, when running advertisements, any products that contain hemp and CBD are not allowed, nor any products that are ingestible or allude to psychoactive effects.
Dana Hall, via, ironically, a Facebook comment:

“I first started in NC cannabis activism with my Cannabis Corner accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

That is when I discovered how effective Facebook advertising was. I ran ads for all the NORML pages/links I could as promotion for the movement. I loved sitting at my computer watching the numbers climb and responding to the flood of comments/messages the ads generated… the ads that Facebook allowed anyway. There were many that were denied for the reason of “promoting illegal activity”.

They ended up suspending my advertising account for life … on top of throttling my page. I’ve been just shy of 3000 followers for years now. I’ve been unable to grow it.

I went back and forth with Facebook about it for two years. “Activism is NOT illegal. Advocating to change the law is NOT breaking the law.”

Their ruling is final.”

Will the farm bill make a difference? Uh …

As nice as Pollack is being, I had to push back on her last statement. And, I asked how the 2018 farm bill would change things. But, the truth is, she already told us, didn’t she?

Refer back to the italicized statement:

“While we understand that there are different laws and regulations across the world for these substances, we build our policies for a global community and given the borderless nature of this community, we try to enforce our policies as consistently as possible.”

Facebook is a global company. It’s trying to manage cannabis in a consistent way across the world when cannabis laws are wildly inconsistent from state to state and country to country.

In her message she also mentions Facebook’s automated system and that it’s those times when Page administrators request a review of the company’s rejections and decisions that humans intervene. So this idea of “trigger words” is real, and the crazy-making part is that they change. A lot.

That’s why — sorry for the self-promotion, but this is what’s up — Carolina Cannabis News is beginning to organize social media and public relations symposiums; we need help staying on top of these things, too, and you’re welcome to join us for our lunch’n’learns.

Why I pushed back on Pollack’s comments

As we stated before, Carolina Cannabis News isn’t immune, or done, with this (super annoying) battle ourselves. In fact, Facebook rejected our “boost” for a recent article about military vetarans volunteering to help hemp farmers.

This is Facebook’s reason for rejecting our boost: “We don’t allow ads that promote illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs. Ads like these are sensitive in nature and are usually contrary of local laws, rules or regulations. Please keep in mind that advocacy or awareness ads are allowed.”

Now imagine me shouting, “It’s a news article about veterans and farmers for God’s sake!” upon reading that message … again, because that is what happened. We’ve received similar messages for attempting to promote other articles, like “Movie Matt” Brunson’s review of the documentary “Hemp Road Trip.” Meanwhile, anyone can see that we’re not promoting anything but the work of our writers and doing so isn’t contrary to Facebook’s rules.

When I pointed out that our own ad rejections are inconsisted with Facebook policy Pollack didn’t write back — or at least she hasn’t yet. As of this writing, the ads are still disapproved.

So, I understand the frustration Tacy and others in the hemp and cannabis industries feel.

Journalists strive to be unbiased, but in this case I can’t be because the company’s unjust behavior is interfering with my business, too. But what can you do? It seems we live in Facebook’s world now.

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.