The Cannabis Business Times Instagram account (@cannabisbusinesstimes) has been down since June 8.
With close to 57,000 followers and 1,600 posts that our team of editors, led by Digital Editor Eric Sandy, and designers crafted, it’s taken years to develop. And it was gone in an instant.
The first notification indicated the account was “disabled for violating our terms.” We filled out the recommended forms to challenge the suspension.
After nearly three weeks and multiple attempts to get answers, we received an email from Instagram, and even after a person reviewed the situation, the conclusion was as unclear as it was unchanged: This “Instagram Account was disabled due to violation of Instagram Community Standards. The account was disabled indefinitely and cannot be restored. We cannot provide further details regarding this decision due to security reasons.”
Instagram suspending cannabis-related accounts is nothing new. But anecdotally, they seem to be getting more prevalent. There’s data that supports this, too.
Ben Walters of Pioneer Intelligence, which tracks marketing ROI for cannabis brands, has been monitoring various cannabis-related accounts’ Instagram activity since September 2018, slowly growing the company’s database to more than 1,500 handles. In January 2021 Pioneer found about 8% of the 748 total valid accounts it tracks (valid meaning those that have posted content in the past 60 days) were down. As of June 30, nearly 21% of 865 valid accounts had been shut down by the social media platform.
Ryan Meyers, senior director of consumer engagement for multistate cannabis operator Cresco Labs, says this has been an ongoing problem.
“One of our challenges is, regardless if we’re doing it in the most responsible way possible, regardless if we’re talking about our social equity program or PRIDE or we’re trying to reach our medical patients, we’re still getting flagged, which ... for the most part, always ends in some sort of ban on the platform,” Meyers says. “We’re constantly trying to work around the system to try to get our account back.”
He estimated Cresco Labs' brand accounts have been pulled about a dozen times. Sometimes it takes just a few weeks to come back online, but they’ve also waited seven months to have their accounts restored.
With all the challenges of operating in the cannabis industry, it can be easy to dismiss social media takedowns as a relatively minor headache and even more trouble than it’s worth. But Instagram has become an increasingly important marketing tool, especially with limited marketing options available to cannabis operators.
Josh Glasstetter of the US Cannabis Council said being able to post content on Instagram and other social platforms is akin to broadcasting in “the public square of the 21st century.” And this “routine challenge for members” seems to be coming up more often in conversations.
“I think it may be getting even more acute. Ultimately, we are talking about an industry that is very young. We’re talking about an industry that is operating under heightened financial and banking restrictions unheard of in any industry,” Glasstetter says. “The ability to reach consumers and reach the general adult public is critical for an emerging industry that, despite all the growth and the investment, is still struggling to reach long-term sustainability. This is all in the context of every other industry being able to take advantage of these channels, and cannabis, yet again, having to labor under unusually restrictive guidelines.”
With so much misinformation about cannabis, it’s also an important way for companies to educate audiences, Meyers says. Both he and Glasstetter are hopeful that the more people share these takedown experiences, the more momentum will build for Meta to change its community guidelines.
“We’re all in it together. Continue to share your experience with other people in the industry. We all want each other to win,” Meyers says. “I love it when I see other accounts be transparent that their accounts were taken down and alerting their followers, because we’ve all had that experience.”