More than 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for Instagram, a global social media platform with more than 1 billion users, to update its terms of service to allow cannabis advocates and influencers to post content without censorship.
The petition has been spearheaded by Bess Byers, a Seattle-based photographer and cannabis social media influencer commonly referred to as Cannabess, who has had her influencer account, @imcannabess, disabled not once, but twice, in August 2018.
Byers discovered Saturday, Aug. 1, 2018, that her Instagram account had been disabled for violating the platform’s terms of service. After almost two weeks filled with filing personal and commercial appeals, Byers received an Instagram email Aug. 13, 2018, stating that her account had been “disabled by mistake,” but provided no further details. The account was reactivated, and Byers resumed posting content as usual, though she said in the back of her mind she felt that her account was “not safe,” and that she was “on somebody’s radar.”
She turned out to be right. On Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, her @imcannabess account, which had amassed nearly 700 posts and more than 90,000 followers since its creation 2 ½ years earlier, had been disabled again.
“I went from sad to mad to, ‘time to get this petition live,’ ” Byers told Marijuana.com.
Byers created a petition that highlighted the progress cannabis legalization has made since Instagram’s release in 2010 and takes the Facebook-owned social media company to task for not updating its terms of service to protect cannabis influencers, advocates, and legal businesses from being targeted. The petition said:
“Instagram claims to foster community, while ours is targeted. The legal cannabis industry employs an estimated 165,000 people in the United States and Washington alone has generated $686 million in excise tax revenue since i502’s implementation. We aren’t a community of criminals. We are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, entrepreneurs and even grandparents who make a legal living while contributing to the economy.”
In the days since drafting the petition, Byers has organized others in the cannabis community to sign and repost her petition on their accounts. As of Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, the petition had reached 10,000 supporters, and a new goal was set at 15,000 signatures.
Instagram did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Aug. 31, 2018.
Cannabis Influencers and Advocates Don’t Know Why They’re Getting Disabled
Canadian cannabis rights activist and business owner Jodie Emery is no stranger to social media accounts getting disabled.
“A few years ago, we lost our Cannabis Culture account, and then created a backup account,” Emery told Marijuana.com. “After many appeals, they restored the original one. However, that one got deleted last Friday [Aug. 24, 2018]. So, we’ve lost our major Cannabis Culture account.”
The same day that she spoke with Marijuana.com, Aug. 29, 2018, Emery’s Instagram account for her hemp cafe had been reactivated by Instagram. It had been disabled despite the cafe selling only coffee and hemp, not psychoactive marijuana or marijuana products, Emery said.
Emery received the same reactivation email as Byers that stated her account has been disabled “by mistake.”
“But my friend said, ‘How could it be done be done by mistake? What does ‘by mistake’ mean?” Emery asked.
Emery believes the rise in cannabis-associated accounts getting disabled could be happening for several different reasons, including targeted harassment campaigns by users on the platform who disagree with cannabis legalization, the fake news controversy, and backlash, and governments pressuring social media companies to limit access to cannabis information.
“Cannabis has a unique history of being lied about by governments,” Emery explained. “So, I have a feeling that governments are heavily leaning on these big organizations to prevent, restrict and limit access to information about cannabis because everything we provide goes against what the government says.”
“If [Instagram] legally can’t allow us to advertise or be on [its]platform, explain to us why or why not. Don’t just give us a blanket statement,” Byers said about the possibility of social media companies feeling government pressure.
The effects of a disabled or deleted account carry more significance than just losing financial revenue or followers. For Byers, it’s erasing history.
“This is my community that I have built over the last 2 ½ years,” Byers said. “All the memories of the adventures are gone. That’s what’s more upsetting. Seeing that kind of loss.”
Emery perceives something more insidious.
“We call it the modern book-burning because you just eliminate all the information,” Emery said in regards to social media accounts and their content being deleted. “I’ve been at this for 15 years, and when people are compiling information about cannabis to spread the truth about it, it’s very risky when someone can just delete it with a click of a button. We’re losing our historical records. Not just the facts about cannabis, but about the history that got us to this point.”