In early October, radio ads for Franny’s Farmacy, in Asheville, were pulled days before the store’s grand opening. Now Facebook has removed the company’s two Facebook business pages — one for the Asheville location and another for the just-opened store in Hendersonville.

Further, both Franny Tacy’s personal page, and that of her marketing director, Nikki Allen, were also temporarily suspended. Even the company’s holiday party event page was removed.

Why? A Facebook message, shared by Allen, states, “Your Page has been unpublished.” Then, it awkwardly reads, “Promote the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals.” 

[Image: Courtesy Nikki Allen, marketing director for Franny’s Farmacy.]

“Being an ex-pharmaceutical rep, there is no way we posted anything that violates Facebook’s terms of service,” says Tacy. “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.”

“The last thing we posted was Franny’s TEDx video,” said Allen who pointed out that other Carolina hemp stores do not seem to have been affected. “All of the other ones are up, and they have images of [hemp] flower,” she says, adding, “They are promoting and selling their products.”

The duo appealed Facebook’s decision, but, as of this writing, the social media company hasn’t lifted the ban. And this isn’t the first time this has happened, says Allen. “The first page went down a couple weeks ago,” she says, “right before the grand opening in Hendersonville.”

Tacy’s team has continued to push back but, Allen says, they’ve received “complete silence; not a word of explaination.”

The second time the social media company took down a Franny’s Farmacy page, Allen says, Facebook accused the hemp dispensary of selling illegal drugs. That accusation is untrue. The retail store sells hemp-derived and cannabinoid (CBD) infused products that are legal in the state of North Carolina and non-psychoactive.

[Read: Rapidly evolving legal status of CBD]

In 2014, the federal farm bill authorized state industrial hemp pilot programs. Tacy is the first licensed female hemp farmer to plant a hemp seed in the state of North Carolina, an honor for which she has received much media attention and many accolades including being the face of the 2018 Hemp History Week.

Tacy says she’s hesitant to create new Facebook pages for her stores: “You set up a new page and ask people to like it, then they get suspicious because they’re like ‘oh, we already liked this page’ and they think it’s spam. And, then, if you recreate it are they just going to take it back down?”

[Image: Instagram story posted by Carolina Cannabis News. In the image, Franny Tacy shows off the belt buckle she was given in honor of her status as North Carolina’s first female hemp farmer. The photo was taken Dec. 7, 2018, at the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association’s annual meeting.]

Little recourse

Asheville-based cannabis attorney Rod Kight says he’s dealt with similar issues himself and also on behalf of his clients in both fully-legal and hemp-pilot states.

“Unfortunately, there are no First Amendment rights to social media,” he says. “The First Amendment only applies to silencing and censorship by the government. As private actors, companies can set whatever policies that they want regarding allowing or disallowing or censoring posts.

“There are some limitations,” Kight continues, “For example, if Facebook had a policy of not allowing posts by African Americans there may (and I stress “may”) be legal recourse based on civil rights caselaw. However, private companies are given wide latitude to set internal policies. Moreover, given the current state of cannabis law in the United States and the world, Facebook could articulate a rational policy that it will avoid allowing posts, even for forms of cannabis that are lawful, until the laws are clearer and not so much in flux. While that is annoying to those of us in the industry, the fact is that Facebook has a right to set such a policy, particularly under the circumstances.”

Kight says companies like Franny’s Farmacy have little recourse when their social media pages or posts are taken down.

“In fighting my own issues with Facebook, and seeking to get clients back on Instagram, I found that there is not much in the way of due process or appeals from its decisions,” he says. “The best recourse is political, by which I mean to have users boycott Facebook and/or let Facebook know that its policies are not in keeping with the times.”

To that end, Carolina Cannabis News found multiple online petitions urging Instagram and Facebook to update their terms of service. There was even a social media blackout day in October.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, however, moments after this article was published Sarah Pollack, a Facebook representative, wrote this via email:

Apologies for the delay but I’ve been stuck in meetings today and this inquiry takes time to look into with our team.

Understanding that we’re now passed your deadline, I can still look into this and provide information in response to your inquiry if you’re interested. Let me know!

I responded immediately with a “yes” and promise to post an update with any additional comments from Facebook.

Not an uncommon problem

Rachel Grano, owner of Mother’s Hemp, says her email account was closed earlier this year for her company Cannibliss Health. At the time, her website redirected to a Facebook page where nothing was sold.

“All of a sudden I got an email saying that in seven days they would be shutting down the account,” she says. “They basically accused me of selling illegal drugs when I wasn’t selling anything at the time. This is my work, and they just took it away.”

Grano says she had just attended HempX at Franny’s Farm and had handed out business cards with that email address.

[Video: Author Jaron Lanier on why you should delete your social media via “The View.” Lanier is the author of “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.]

She, too, appealed the technology company’s decision. “They responded within an hour,” she says, “but I doubt they even reviewed anything.”

When she decided to start Mother’s Hemp, Grano says she called around until she found a website provider that, according to her, said, “’We actually looked into it and we completely support it.’ So, there are companies out there but you really have to seek them out,” she says.

It’s frustrating, Grano says, because “people are missing out on potential advertising, and the social media and internet companies are missing out on advertising dollars. They’re leaving money on the table.”

Similar issues persist in Canada and legal states

Natalia Chiles, owner of Hiiighvibes, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, made international news earlier this year when, after already experiencing the demise of one popular Instagram account, the social media platform pulled down an image of a tea cup with a painted cannabis leaf decoration.

Instagram apologized to Chiles via a news article, she told Carolina Cannabis News, but she never got her cannabis-focused business account back.

“It was (banned) because we had gone to a festival and my friend and I won a giveaway. I posted a thank you and tagged the companies. I’ve never been able to recover that page since,” says Chiles, admitting the winnings were doled out a few days before the county’s Cannabis Act — which legalized recreational marijuana — became the law of that land and that if one person had been in possession of the winnings they could have faced criminal charges.

[Image: Natalia Chiles, of Hiiighvibes, with her offensive — to Instagram, anyway — cannabis tea cup. Image courtesy of Natalia Chiles.]

“Since then, I started using my personal Instagram account and started growing that page. That page is now @hiiighvibes. The thing that is tricky about this is that because Facebook and Instagram are one company my name is tied to all of these accounts,” she says, asking rhetorically, “So, is it just a matter of time before they figure this out and block all of my accounts?”

“This isn’t something that a handful of people are facing,” she says, “the entire industry is facing this.”

“I am a medical user and advocate for medical use, I should have a right to anecdotally talk about what is working for me,” she says, “This is real censorship, and this is how I’ve been silenced.”

She says it bothers her that you can see plenty of people smoking cannabis on social media but attempts to educate seem to be problematic.

“It’s really unfortunate because there is a lack of education,” she says, pointing out that people are opting to follow these social media accounts. “People want to have this education and it’s just not available. They need to know about CBD and how it’s non psychoactive, but there’s little education. I feel like what we’re seeing is a lot of fear mongering propaganda, like ‘don’t mix alcohol and cannabis’, yet we can’t talk about dosages (for medical marijuana or CBD).”

Her advice for others: “Be persistent. Be the squeaky wheel. Keep advocating for this and saying it’s a problem.”

There are even more extreme examples than hers. Bess Byers, of Seattle, who is also known as Cannabess, has had her Instagram account banned seven times.

In August of this year, when her account @iamcannabess was banned for the first time, she had over 90,000 followers. Since then, according to Seattle’s Pulitzer Prize-winning altweekly The Stranger, her account has been banned six more times.

She details her saga and offers advice for what you can do if your social media account is deleted on her website.

Byers is currently posting on Instagram as @BessByers where she has nearly 13,000 followers, less than 15 percent of her original following. Chiles’ @hiiighvibes Instagram account has almost 4,000 followers, or about two-thirds of her previous following.

We are not immune

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must turn the rest of this report into an editorial and tell you that Carolina Cannabis News has also had a difficult time with social media since the inception of our social media accounts in June of this year.

For example, when we attempted to boost a Facebook post for our first podcast we were accused of being a political operative, and when we attempted to boost a post for Movie Matt Brunson’s review of “Hemp Road Trip” we were accused of selling illegal drugs.

And just this weekend our Eventbrite event page — ironcally for a hemp-focused social media symposium on Jan. 4, 2019 — was taken down because we truthfully stated that Mitty’s CBD Cafe was bringing CBD-infused coffee, Ladybug Medibles is making a CBD-infused lunch and The Hemp Source is bringing hemp snacks.

You’ve got that right: It’s not the topic but the refreshments that got our event page taken down. We disclosed that we are going to have hemp-infused food and drink at the event because it helps to explain the price tag ($125) since our CBD-infused healthy lunch will cost a bit more than ordering a pizza. (And our speakers and venue deserve to be paid, too, amiright?)

Then, when I “boosted” the event page, the Facebook the ad was also rejected because of the mention of the words hemp and CBD in relation to food and beverages. For both the Eventbrite and Facebook event page, once I removed mentions of CBD and hemp — even removing “CBD” from “Mitty’s CBD Cafe” out of an abundance of caution — the pages were reinstated. 

[Listen: Learn from our mistakes. Here’s a recording of our call with Eventbrite. At the end, the company representative acknowledges that this isn’t an ideal situation for anyone.]

Facebook has even made me, as the publisher of Carolina Cannabis News, prove my identity by mailing a secret code to my home that I had to enter into a form on their website, asking for my social security number and my driver’s license (or passport). I submitted my North Carolina driver’s license which was rejected multiple times until representatives working with LION Publishers advocated on our behalf. Still, the process took months and has most certianly affected our reach on that platform, and probably overall. In other words, as with the examples above, Facebook’s policies have had a negative impact on our business.

And, after all of that, to run a promoted post on Facebook we must mark it as a topic of “national interest.” The penalty for failing to notice that check box is, you guessed it, to have your ad banned.

Even worse, readers sometimes report an inability to even find our social media pages. We’ve been told by the experts that the Carolina Cannabis News Facebook page is at times “shadow banned” due to the “c-word.”

“I know what I’m looking for to find Carolina Cannabis News and I can’t find you,” says Grano.

Still, we understand Facebook is altering its rules for cannabis media and have begun the verification process, though our first submission was rejected so quickly there is no way a human was involved, in my opinion. We must wait 30 days to re-submit our creditials.

So, there’s our bias on this one: We agree that internet-based platforms are being unreasonable when it comes to their treatment of hemp and CBD companies in the Carolinas and of other upstanding cannabis companies worldwide. And, to be as frank as possible, it really pisses me off that they also censor the media.

At the same time, I understand that the federal government could offer more regulatory certianty. Perhaps the 2018 farm bill, if it becomes law, will at least offer relief for the hemp industry.

In the meantime, if you want to help a cannabis company out be sure to like, comment on and share their social media posts and, in our case, links to Carolina Cannabis News articles.

When you support cannabis companies — and local media — that are doing work to benefit the community it matters if you share with your neighbors. We thank you for your efforts, especially since sharing might mean coming out of the pot closet. (Hey, you can do it!)

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

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