Bess Byers, who is known in the cannabis industry as @imCannabess, was incensed when the community of over 90,000 followers she had spent over two and a half years cultivating and caring for on Instagram was “deleted with the click of a button.” “There was really no communication on Instagram’s part,” said Byers who is a cannabis photographer and founder of Seattle-based creative digital agency Blaise Creative. “One day the page was up and running, and then the next day it was deactivated with no warning.”
Byers’ Instagram profile @imcannabess was shut down for the first time on August 1, 2018. Byers said that the entire experience had caused her unnecessary stress and headaches as a young business owner.
“A wave of emotions washed over me from extreme sadness to the ultimate rage,” said Byers when she wrote about the experience on her blog. “After taking more dabs than I could count, I knew tears wouldn’t fix this fiasco, so I took action to get my account reinstated.”
Byers went about the appeals process on Instagram. After filing several business appeals to no avail, the cannabis entrepreneur decided to file a personal appeal based on testimony from the cannabis community.
The quotes from industry peers she sent to Instagram included:
“The most frustrating thing for me as your follower and a user of Instagram is the fact you spread so much positivity and happiness, while I’ve definitely seen other content from other users on Instagram that I believe to be inappropriate for social media.”
“We’re incredibly disappointed in @instagram for deleting your account. This happens to far too many cannabis influencers. We are big fans of your work; fingers crossed you’re able to retrieve @imcannabess soon!”
“@instagram you’re on the wrong side here. Give this woman her account.”
Byers is convinced the emotional appeals from the cannabis industry peers played a critical role in her account being reactivated. However, her account remained shut down for two weeks, which caused her economic hardship and prevented her from providing metrics to her clients who had sponsored content on her page.
Wikileaf Social Spotlight: Cannabess
In the note the social media company sent to Byers, the Instagram team claimed her account had been “disabled by mistake.” At first, this flippant explanation for the deletion of her account made Byers feel frustrated. However, that frustration shifted to a commitment to change Instagram’s policies toward cannabis industry accounts.
“During the course of my ordeal, I went from sad, to mad to mad inspired,” said Byers. “Seeing my page reactivated gave me hope. Now is the time to push for change and make our community’s voice heard.”
Not just Instagram: there’s trouble on all the major social media networks
Lisa Jordan, Director of Marketing for Colorado-based Canna Advisors, told The Stash last month that, with the exception of LinkedIn, none of the major social media networks allow cannabis businesses to freely advertise their products.
Jordan, who also sits on the Marketing and Advertising Committee at the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), agrees with Bess Byers, said that the only way that to change the prohibitionism on the popular social media platforms is to mobilize support and push back against the powerful companies in a call for change.
“The best thing we can do is to be loud,” said Jordan. “Even though we can each try to get around it on our own, there is no assurance that our strategies will work… We need to take the long-term view and push back.”
To address the issue, the NCIA is running a petition “Facebook – Stop Censoring Marijuana Industry, Advocacy Groups, and Regulators” that has 22,659 signatures. Help them reach their goal of 25,000 by signing your name.
Mark your calendar: Instagram Blackout Day on Oct. 6th
Byers wants to show Instagram how much engagement the cannabis community brings to their platform. The social media influencer has taken to Instagram to coordinate #CannabisBlackoutDay on October 6, Instagram’s founding date, when cannabis industry participants and supporters will stay off the photo-sharing platform.
“When my account came back the first time people said, ‘You did it, you beat Instagram!’,” said Byers on Instagram. “The truth is that we haven’t won until they stop deleting cannabis content.’”
“I ask all cannabis companies, influencers and supporters of this plant to please refrain from using the app entirely. That’s right, no posts, no stories, no comments and no DM’s. We want Instagram to see the drop in engagement if our community left their app. So mark your calendars for October 6, because we’re blacking out the ‘Gram!”
Byers is asking that Instagram users who support the legal cannabis industry to refrain from logging into their accounts or even using the mobile app on their phones.
“We want to show Instagram what it looks like if we all leave,” said Byers. “We’re working with producers, processors, consumers to basically put together the largest group possible to get as many people on board as possible.”
Byers said that this campaign will hopefully draw attention to how Instagram decides to verify certain pages while it turn out the lights on others by shutting down their accounts where they connect with community. In addition to those directly involved in the cannabis industry, Byers also uses the platform to connect to other industries such as fashion and music.
“We’re not going somewhere else, to another weed-only platform,” said Byers. “We need to normalize cannabis in the wider community. If we’re shut off from massive social platforms like Instagram, that’s not going to be able to happen.”
In addition to Instagram, Byers hopes that the other major social media platforms will hear the growing chorus for change as the cannabis industry continues to join together to assert its voice and demand the right to share images with their online communities.
“The tsunami of change is coming…. It’s time to push for change at Instagram, and hopefully companies like Facebook and YouTube will follow suit. Let’s make our voices heard today, tomorrow, October 6 and every day, because together we grow!”