The guidelines Facebook uses to take down content are confusing, and often unevenly enforced. That leads to many different kinds of censorship controversies, with the latest landing in Facebook’s lap this week after the site blocked the pages of several legal Alaskan marijuana shops.
By its standards, Facebook bans content that promotes the sale of marijuana. Advocates argue that the rule shouldn’t apply to the eight states that have legalized the drug’s recreational use, but it is still illegal at the federal level. Industry officials said this kind of crackdown periodically happens on Facebook, though it isn’t clear why or what triggers it.
An attorney who works with the Alaskan marijuana business said Facebook’s action “has an incredibly negative, chilling effect on the commercial speech of these companies.” Some business owners are even afraid to appeal the bans, for fear Facebook will permanently remove their Facebook and Instagram profiles. And the ones who do report the issue have received mix results, with some saying they never heard back.
“It’s just frustrating,” one of these business owners told CNBC. “We’re already so limited that when something else that is almost like a privilege is taken away, it’s just like, what do you do?”
On the one hand, it’s a good thing that Facebook has strict rules governing content. But on the other, the site needs to sort through some of the gray area that comes with enforcing them.