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Oklahoma cannabis businesses vs. Facebook ‘community standards’

With 2.41 billion active monthly users, Facebook is the most widely used social media platform in the world. Many businesses use the network’s vast userbase to reach out to customers, advertise and acquaint people with their products.

But Facebook’s ubiquity also creates problems, something Tiffanie Dartez has experienced firsthand. Dartez is a chef and owner of White Rabbit Medicinals, a cannabis processing company that creates marijuana-infused foods for medicinal use. In early August, Dartez and many other Tulsa-area cannabis business owners realized their businesses’ posts were being flagged by Facebook as violating their terms of use. Even posts complaining about the flagging were flagged.

“They kind of did this systematically,” Dartez said. “They were flagging everybody and then they gave us one last warning: anything else posted, you’ll be shut down.” Dartez and others were all but ordered by Facebook to stop using the platform to promote their businesses. Those that did not comply had their pages completely unpublished. The post that got Dartez booted wasn’t even cannabis related.

It’s not clear who reported the posts, since Facebook doesn’t provide that information to those it charges with violating its terms of service. Dartez suspects some have been reported by anti-cannabis activists, while others may have been targeted by competitors. But the simultaneous removal of so many cannabis pages suggests to Dartez a coordinated shutdown by Facebook itself.

It wasn’t the first time Facebook had unpublished cannabis-related business pages. In July, seven Oklahoma dispensaries sued Facebook over the same issue, going so far as to name Mark Zuckerberg and several other executives in the suit. Since early August, 30 other dispensaries have joined the suit. Their pages have since been restored amid the legal action, and the case was dismissed on Aug. 16.

Facebook said the posts violated their rules against promoting the use of drugs. While cannabis is considered medicinal in Oklahoma and 32 other states, it remains federally illegal, which complicates things for the medical cannabis industry. Even though they provide a service that is vital to many, in the eyes of federal law, Dartez and her compatriots might as well be selling pot brownies out of a dorm room. 

Facebook, already in the hot seat over privacy and data collection, looks to be taking a great degree of caution in what it’s allowing on the platform. This caution comes at a high cost to the users that depend on the social media giant to advertise their businesses. Dartez lost roughly 3,200 followers in two days.

“For two days we noticed a drop in orders because a lot of people reach us through Facebook,” Dartez said. 

“It was shocking how much we realized Facebook had over us. It was like ‘Holy shit, [Zuckerberg] paused our business.’”

Dartez got her page back after two days, and she plans to use it in the future mainly to direct potential customers to White Rabbit’s website. She says that she and others don’t want to rely too heavily on Facebook in the future and will be branching out into other social media platforms.

“I’m still gonna stay on Facebook, but slowly phase out,” Dartez said. “I’m just playing nice … until I have a better platform to move to.” 

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