Why Is Twitter Flagging Searches for Marijuana (And Not Alcohol or Tobacco)?
As part of a government program, the social media platform has been messaging users on the dangers of substance abuse.
Twitter has started to work with the federal government to flag searches on the social media platform that include the word "marijuana" and provide users with a message offering substance abuse resources.
The message is coming from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). If you enter :"marijuana" on the Twitter search page, you get this message under the headline "Help is available": "If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, you are not alone. Our partner SAMHSA 1-800-662-4357 can help.
The message is offered in both English and Spanish. This type of message is not available if you type in beer, wine, alcohol, tobacco or cigarettes.
"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, told Marijuana Moment.
What about alcohol and cigarettes?
The World Health Organization reports that more than three million people die from harmful use of alcohol each year, according to Marijuana Moment. They also report that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration acknowledges "no deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported."
Cigarettes also remain highly addictive, legal in all 50 states, and kill people by the hundreds of thousands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reports that cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year. It's the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide, with about 7 million people dying each year from causes related to smoking. Millions more live with smoking-related diseases.
To put it another way, smoking causes more deaths per year than the following causes combined: HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents. Also, more women die from lung cancer each year than they do breast cancer.
With the numbers that show the negative impact of alcohol and tobacco, why offer substance abuse help only for those who search for marijuana? (By the way, as of this writing the warning does not come up when you search for cannabis).
Sutton told Marijuana Moment that "it goes back to the same false dichotomy that people who use drugs are struggling and need help versus the reality that most people can use drugs non-problematically, while a small portion of the population tends to struggle with substance use disorder."
Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that Twitter should "absolutely do the same for alcohol, which is a more dangerous substance."