Face­book ‘ban’ riles cannabis re­form­ers

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE - AARON LEA­MAN

SO­CIAL me­dia gi­ant Face­book is ac­cused of sti­fling the de­bate on New Zealand’s cannabis laws by ban­ning ads from a pro-re­form group.

Start The Con­ver­sa­tion re­ceived a no­tice from Face­book say­ing its ad ac­count had been dis­abled.

The move pre­vents the group from pay­ing to pro­mote or ‘‘boost’’ its posts, and there­fore reach a wider au­di­ence.

An au­to­matic mes­sage sent by Face­book at­trib­uted it to un­usual ac­tiv­ity on its page but Start The Con­ver­sa­tion co­founder Abe Gray al­leges the group is a vic­tim of the cor­po­rate gi­ant’s strict an­ti­cannabis stance.

‘‘What we’re try­ing to do is get a dis­cus­sion hap­pen­ing around the is­sue. Politi­cians con­tin­u­ally say the pub­lic isn’t ready for cannabis re­form, but if the pub­lic isn’t al­lowed to dis­cuss it, how do we know we’re not ready? Face­book’s ac­tions pre­vent that dis­cus­sion,’’ Gray says.

Gray says it spent thou­sands of dol­lars ad­ver­tis­ing on Face­book dur­ing the 2017 gen­eral elec­tion, with no is­sues.

Start the Con­ver­sa­tion co­founder Jin An Hirst says it is cru­cial New Zealan­ders can en­gage in an in­formed de­bate on cannabis ahead of a sig­nalled ref­er­en­dum in ei­ther 2019 or 2020.

Hirst says she sought an ex­pla­na­tion from Face­book but is yet to re­ceive a re­ply.

Face­book’s pol­icy is not to pro­mote the sale or use of il­le­gal drugs, but says drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion sup­port groups are fine.

NZ Drug Foun­da­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ross Bell says he had ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar ‘‘un­usual ac­tiv­ity’’ mes­sages ap­pear on his or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Face­book ac­count but dis­missed the idea Face­book was try­ing to shut down de­bate.

‘‘It’s got to be some­thing else... there’s not go­ing to be a con­spir­acy.’’

Face­book didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

‘ If the pub­lic isn’t al­lowed to dis­cuss it, how do we know we’re not ready?’ ABE GRAY

Start The Con­ver­sa­tion co­founders Abe Gray, above, and Jin An Hirst.

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