Two weeks ago a North Carolina marijuana activist and customer of Caribou Coffee found that she was unable to access websites like LEAP, SSDP or NORML through the free WiFi that came with her coffee purchase. She complained to the barrista, who handed her off to the manager, who then referred her to corporate. When she called Caribou Coffee’s corporate headquarters she was told that any website that is known to discuss marijuana is blocked in all of their stores and there was nothing that could be done about it.
After learning about this activist’s experience SouthCANN attempted to get in touch with Caribou Coffee’s media relations representative to find out what was going on but got no reply. We then tried to Tweet it out with Caribou Coffee but they wouldn’t play along.
After researching Caribou Coffee’s history of complaints from customers about their Wifi censorship, however, we found that it’s not marijuana that Caribou Coffee cares about so much as it is shutting down access to anything that might be controversial.
— SouthCANN (@SouthCANN) February 3, 2015
Corporatism is a threat to speech, too
Of course if Caribou Coffee ever did end up taking us seriously and actually answer our questions it would probably sound something like this:
We are a private corporation and we can do what we want. Your speech means nothing here.
– Hypothetical Media Relations person at Caribou Coffee
Censoring traffic on a privately-owned network based on keywords or subject matter is certainly legal, but by choosing to block access to all cannabis-related websites Caribou Coffee is making a public statement, whether they intend to or not, that there are certain issues they don’t want discussed in their store.
But cannabis isn’t the only hot-button issue Caribou Coffee censors. Some customers claim the company is part of a right-wing conspiracy to silence descent. Others are upset because conservative websites, like the NRA, are censored across Caribou Coffee’s WiFi network while websites containing pornography pass through the filter just fine. Whatever Caribou Coffee’s reason for blocking websites that depart from the “Message of the Day” that the corporate-run “mainstream” media feeds us, the truth is that this is a drop in the bucket compared to the war social media companies are currently waging against cannabis activists and organizations.
Facebook hates the “M” word
For years Facebook has been shutting down advertising that included photos of or information about marijuana. We have had our own share of promoted Facebook posts shut down because of Facebook’s heavy-handed anti-cannabis policy, including this post on WeedBiz that shows dwindling Cartel profits amid marijuana legalization in the United States.
Plenty of other cannabis-related Facebook pages have essentially been barred from advertising as well, based simply on their “typical subject matter”, including several activist organizations (though Facebook says their policy is not to block this type of advertising). But now Facebook seems to be taking their marijuana policy to a whole new level. Until recently Facebook typically limited their marijuana censorship to paid advertising, but more users are starting to see suspensions and outright bans when Facebook deems they have gone too far with their “free” speech.
One of the most recent case of Facebook’s overreach is the banning of blogger and POTcaster Steve Elliot for mentioning the price of LEGAL marijuana, in LEGAL marijuana stores in the state of Washington, where marijuana is — you guessed it — Legal. And then there’s the case of Harborside Health Center, widely regarded as the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the U.S., who recently had both their Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) accounts with hundreds-of-thousands of followers shut down without explanation.
Facebook expends a great deal of resources finding and deleting accounts that discuss marijuana while doing virtually nothing to shut down those that use Facebook as a platform for disseminating hate. “Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all trying to address this problem to some degree,” J.M. Berger, a researcher at the Brookings Institute, told NPR. “But none of them stepped up or volunteered to do it. They all responded to outside pressures, whether it was negative news coverage or congressional hearings or stern letters from people in government.”
With all the time spent rooting out and shutting down marijuana advertisements on Twitter little attention is paid to the fact that ISIS, the most successful terrorist organization on the planet, has used social media as their primary recruiting tool. And no platform has been more successful for them than Twitter.
Last summer The Atlantic reported on how ISIS is able to disseminate their message, raise funds and increase their ranks through crafty Twitter tweaking, which involves using multiple unrelated accounts to artificially inflate trending data and grow their follower count. Rather than investigating and shutting down the accounts for these dangerous organizations, which are using their platform so they can rape, murder and destroy the lives of innocent people, Twitter instead spends its time making sure a LEGAL DISPENSARY doesn’t advertise $10 grams.
Since Twitter and Facebook have completely ignored the fact that they are conduits for a global terror organization, the hactivist group Anonymous is stepping up to try to fix it for them.
It’s time to remember who our friends are
When corporations like Facebook, which is the largest social media website on the planet, or Caribou Coffee, which is the second-largest coffee shop chain in the country, begin deciding which speech is acceptable and which is not then an enormous number of people are affected whether the person being censored realizes it or not.
Unfortunately, however, these companies usually listen to only one person, and that is the shareholder. Customers are not important. Truth is not important. In publicly traded companies such as these, only those that profit are important. The only way to change this is for stakeholders to begin asking these larger-than-life corporations why they are so intent on limiting speech on important social issues like medical marijuana, while simultaneously providing a free platform for terrorist organizations to recruit from. Until the piggy bank “oinks” nothing will change, and that won’t happen until people learn that there are certain things they are not allowed to see.
Shortly after publishing this blog post we shared it on our Facebook page and tried to pay $40 to “boost” the post. As of now, nearly an hour later, the “Boost” remains in the ad review queue, which means a human (or multiple humans) have to review the post before the “Boost” is allowed. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t really think I need one for this.