For a typical college student, if it didn’t happen on Facebook, it didn’t happen. That gives the social networking behemoth an out-sized influence on the confines of political debate, if that debate falls outside what Facebook deems acceptable discourse.
Proponents of marijuana legalization, which is on the California ballot in 2010, have hit a Facebook wall in their effort to grow an online campaign to rethink the nation’s pot laws. Facebook initially accepted ads from the group Just Say Now, running them from August 7 to August 16, generating 38 million impressions and helping the group’s fan page grow to over 6,000 members. But then they were abruptly removed.
Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, said that the problem was the pot leaf. “It would be fine to note that you were informed by Facebook that the image in question was no long[er] acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a pot leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies,” he told the group in an email, which was provided to HuffPost.
Noyes is on vacation and didn’t respond to an email. A request sent to Facebook’s general press address generated an auto-reply indicating that the company receives many requests and intends to respond. [Scroll down for a Facebook statement.]
Facebook’s ad rules, however, only ban promotion of “[t]obacco products,” not smoking in general. Since the 1970s, shops selling marijuana paraphernalia have sought ways around the law by disingenuously claiming their products are “for tobacco use only.” The Just Say Now campaign is arguing the exact opposite: No, really, it’s for marijuana, not tobacco.
The censorship is a blow to the campaign, which is gathering signatures on college campuses calling for legalization and registering young people to vote. “It’s like running a campaign and saying you can’t show the candidate’s face,” said Michael Whitney of Firedoglake.com, a blog that is part of the Just Say Now coalition.
Conservative college students condemned the site’s restrictions. “Our generation made Facebook successful because it was a community where we could be free and discuss issues like sensible drug policy. If Facebook censorship policies continue to reflect those of our government by suppressing freedom of speech then they won’t have to wait until Election Day to be voted obsolete,” Jordan Marks, the head of Young Americans for Freedom, told HuffPost in an email. YAF was founded in the 1960s and William Buckley’s estate; Buckley was a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization. Marks is a member of the Just Say Now board.
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