Were Hundreds of Cannabis Advocates Shadow Banned for Encouraging Environmental Clean Up?
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On April 21, hundreds of cannabis advocates took to social media to share the local clean-up they did for #Canna4Climate, a new effort created by WeedTube that encourages the cannabis community to give back on the day between the cannabis appreciation holiday 4/20 and Earth Day on 4/22.
It was a worthy and necessary cause, but nearly every cannabis advocate who participated in #Canna4Climate experienced a sharp drop in engagement and exposure on Instagram the week of 4/21.
Take me, for example. As the co-founder of both WeedTube and #Canna4Climate, with 38k followers on Instagram, I typically average around 4,000 story views--on a bad day. The week of #Canna4Climate, I couldn't get more than 400 views on my Instagram story.
Some of our other leading content creators like MacDizzle (@MacDizzle420, 443k followers) said she received 20k fewer Instagram story views than usual. Even licensed businesses are groveling with the biggest platforms to avoid being deleted, hopelessly researching tips on 'how your cannabis company can avoid a shutdown' since this has become common practice.
What is shadow banning?
Shadow banning blocks a user's profile, posts, or comments from a social media site without their knowledge. What does this mean? Essentially, those being shadowbanned on Instagram won't show up in the search bar, and the platform won't share their content on the all-mighty Discover page, where influencers earn their engagement and gain followers. This means less shares and less views for the content creator, driving down any potential for monetization. Additionally, a strong enough shadow ban will prevent users' posts from being seen by their followers in total.
Let's take a closer look at the initiative that Instagram shadowbanned. The #Canna4Climate event is a green living initiative, encouraging people of all ages, without consumption, to take an environmental and humanitarian effort to clean up local pollution. In fact, the mission was also to change the "stoner" narrative rather than promote over-consumption or accompanying behaviors that people perceive as a taboo that is often associated with cannabis.
This was yet another way that Instagram silences smaller cannabis advocates; while views and impressions are down across most cannabis content on IG, the removal of the content and profiles is up. Now is a crucial time for the cannabis industry. With states passing adult-use legalization at an accelerated speed, it's more important than ever for consumers to have access to cannabis-related knowledge, content, and resources. However, censorship and content suppression from mainstream platforms is still plaguing the industry.
Social censorship is not new in the cannabis industry
In 2018, YouTube shut down hundreds of influencer accounts with cannabis-related content at an unprecedented rate, without warning or explanation. YouTube's "Cannabis Purge of 2018" birthed an entirely new social media platform called WeedTube, in which like-minded influencers banded together to create a network that embraces rather than condemns cannabis. The website has become one of the fastest-growing platforms in cannabis, providing a safe and protected content hub. Despite having their own platform, cannabis influencers still run into excessive red tape when they try to cross-promote on bigger social media platforms.
The cannabis industry needs to advocate against social media censorship because valuable education and cannabis resources are being deleted or unfairly muted every day. The most recent censorship tactic to plague the industry is shadow banning.
The cost of being a gatekeeper
While suppression of cannabis content is not new (my account was deleted in 2018 from YouTube at 190k subscribers), the more significant problem is that Instagram is acting as a gatekeeper to cannabis knowledge, content, and resources. Instagram has become pay-to-play for cannabis content creators, denying smaller influencers the exposure they rightfully earned. If any brand, creator or initiative can't organically gain the exposure they deserve, there will only be room for corporations who can afford to buy approval - perpetuating inequity in the industry.
If the only cannabis content left on Instagram is sponsored content from large cannabis corporations, new cannabis users won't have access to the valuable cannabis education they need. A whole generation of cannabis consumers will lose the opportunity to chat and connect over social media if we allow Instagram to remove small cannabis accounts and only promote corporate cannabis, or hardly any cannabis at all.
Social media platforms should not be allowed to decide who achieves recognition and success in any industry. That is for the consumers and people within that industry to determine alone. If we don't hold Instagram accountable now, what will happen once federal legalization passes? Everyone in this industry, working hard for years, will suffer, seeing how much their efforts don't matter when Instagram decides which personalities and brands get their fair share of airtime.
We must take a stand now. Advocates can make their voice heard by tagging Instagram in posts about their gatekeeping on the industry and community. By addressing Instagram directly, we can change the narrative of what a cannabis content creator is. Let Instagram know that the cannabis legalization movement continues to grow and will not be silenced.