Group complains when Facebook blocks image of pot leaf

Facebook is censoring Just Say Now's legalization campaign, the group says

Facebook has blocked a marijuana legalization campaign from displaying the image of a pot leaf in ads on the social-networking giant's site, and that's making the normally mellow group upset.

Facebook is censoring the Just Say Now campaign from using the pot leaf in its advertising, with the site's decision to block the leaf coming earlier this month without explanation, the group said Tuesday. Facebook first approved the ads Aug. 7, then backtracked on the decision Aug. 16, Just Say Now said.

By blocking the image, Facebook is hurting Just Say Now's efforts to change public policy, the group's organizers said. The decision came after Facebook had served 38 million ads using the marijuana leaf, the group said.

"It's tantamount to banning a candidate's face during a political campaign," Michael Whitney, a Just Say Now organizer, said in a statement. "It's a mystery to me why Facebook would do such a sudden about-face. This is political speech."

But Facebook has not banned the group from advertising or from having its own page on the site, said spokesman Andrew Noyes. Facebook simply decided the image of the pot leaf violated Facebook's policy against advertising smoking products.

"The image in question was no longer acceptable for use in Facebook ads," Noyes said. "The image of a marijuana leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies."

Facebook's ad guidelines, indeed, prohibit advertising of tobacco products and illegal activity. Just Say Now organizers pointed out that marijuana and tobacco are two different things.

"We're not trying to sell pot to people," said Jane Hamsher, director of Just Say Now. "We're trying to have a political discussion about U.S. drug policy. In a 2.0 world of online graphics, banning the use of the subject image is not a mature decision about the boundaries of appropriate political discourse. It's a decision made to appease somebody's finger-wagging grandparents."

Support for legalization of marijuana is growing, especially among young people, even though President Barack Obama's administration has opposed legalization efforts, Just Say Now said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Tags Andrew NoyesInternet-based applications and servicesMichael WhitneylegalJane Hamshersocial networkinginternetgovernmentBarack ObamalegislationFacebookJust Say Now

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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