The owners of seven medicinal cannabis dispensaries in Oklahoma have filed suit against Facebook over allegations that the social media website is “subjectively” putting them in “Facebook jail” when posting about their businesses.
Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe and its owner, Danna Malone, initiated the lawsuit against Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and executive team member Peter Thiel in Tulsa County District Court in May 2019. Six other dispensaries were added as plaintiffs as of July 18, 2019.
The complaint, which alleges discrimination and was filed pro se, states the businesses use platforms such as Facebook to build their brands and make contact with customers. It goes on to say that Facebook has “a pattern of targeting the Oklahoma medical marijuana industry.”
The other dispensary plaintiffs are Flowercraft Co. of Tulsa and Coweta and owner Shawn Jenkins; The Greens Bakery of Tulsa and owner Monica Green; Tribal Nations CBD Outlet and owner Paul Gossett, who has stores in Claremore and Vinita; Stoned 4 Survival and owners Sherri and Donny Taylor of Grant; Top Shelf Growers Inc., a Claremore business owned by Rachel and Nathaniel Duggan; and Cannabis Island, whose owner, Samantha Ditata, operates in Del City.
The plaintiffs seek a court order to prevent Facebook from censoring their business pages on their platform. They are also seeking damages of over $75,000 for “economic harm,” as well as attorney fees.
“Facebook jail” is a reference to the temporary or permanent disabling of a page or profile by the site, in full or in part, due to a perceived standards violation.
“Facebook has an arbitrary, subjective, discriminatory and archaic policy and their policy does not apply to all,” the petition states. “It is just random. Or at least it appears to be random. There is no way for an individual or a business to contact anyone within Facebook to get assistance. They hide behind their keyboards and mete out whatever punishment they feel if they find that you have committed an infraction to their subjective community standards.”
Facebook’s community standards on regulated goods indicate that the company prohibits attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to sell “non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.” Their advertising rules say to avoid using images in advertising of smoking devices, as well as photos of recreational or medical cannabis or photos that imply the use of either.
The plaintiffs claim that “from the surface” Facebook does not appear to censor posts about cannabis from people in states such as California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, all of which legalized recreational use.
Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe created a Facebook page last summer ahead of its grand opening. Malone said that prompted Facebook to “wage a campaign of discrimination, censorship and harassment” by having her and other page administrators placed in what is commonly known as “Facebook jail.”
She went on to say her personal profile was also affected during time periods when her dispensary’s Facebook page was inactive. Each of the other dispensary owners accused Facebook of having their pages “arbitrarily unpublished” multiple times, which Malone said in her case caused her business to lose its patient base and “untold dollars in revenue.” “The defendants pick and choose what is against community standards and what is not,” Malone wrote. “They do not have a set standard.”
Many users have reported being unable to find cannabis-related pages and groups on Facebook, as the site filters searches that include terms such as “marijuana.” Those searching Facebook for the page associated with the state’s regulatory agency, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, are instead directed to results that would appear to indicate no such page exists. Users have to bookmark the page or type out the URL, facebook.com/OMMAOK, to access the regulatory agency’s social media posts.
Facebook told MarketWatch in October 2018 that it would allow users to find cannabis-related pages that have gray or blue verification check marks.
B Le Grand