With Banned Pot Leaf Image, Facebook Pushes U.S. Morals on World

What marijuana, breast-feeding, and Facebook have—or should have—in common.

Just Say Now

Facebook is a global phenomenon of epic proportions. So why is the site pushing U.S.-centric morals on the rest of the (sometimes more enlightened) world? Case in point: Banning images of a marijuana leaf, which was only being used to spur political debate.

The "Just Say Now" group is a new independent entity that's pushing for a rethink of the strict anti-marijuana laws in the U.S. at a political and public level. Its members include transpartisan politicians, judges, students, and a whole bunch of other people representing a pretty good slice of society. They've got a website, and they mean serious business in the face of foot-dragging on the matter by the usually progressive Obama administration. To achieve access to a wider public audience, the group has also crafted a Facebook page, and received approval for adverts to promote it on August 7th. The advert contained, of course, the most iconic and attention-grabbing image it could—one that's already well-known to the public: A marijuana leaf.

facebook-potThen later, with no explanation of why at first, the site blocked the advert.

Investigations revealed that the pot leaf "violated" Facebook's policy on acceptable images because it promoted smoking, and all pro-smoking images are deemed unacceptable. As are images that promote illegal activity—marijuana consumption is illegal in the U.S. unless under some strict regulations in rare medical situations, so presumably this is behind Facebook's decision.

But here's the first problem: A pot leaf isn't a "pro-smoking" image. It's a plant, and as many of Facebook's executive team should know (like 40% of Americans who consume marijuana regularly as adults) there are many ways of consuming the product other than smoking it. Blocking the image on these grounds is "tantamount to banning a candidate's face during a political campaign" according to a Just Say Now spokesman who spoke to Reuters, since the campaign is not "pro-smoking" but a political effort to change the law.

And here's a worse problem: The strict anti-marijuana laws in the U.S. aren't necessarily representative of the legal position in other countries around the world. Take Holland, for example, where the drug isn't strictly legal, but there's a famously relaxed interpretation of enforcing the regulations. Or Portugal, a poor and strongly Catholic nation which is leading Europe in a progressive stance on drug legalization: Most drugs have been decriminalized there since 2001. Portugal's policy has been so successful in reducing drug-related crime as well as absolute drug consumption levels, and has increased the number of people seeking addiction help so much that it's seen as a model for the rest of Europe. An image of a pot leaf is most definitely not illegal in Portugal. Why can't Portuguese Facebookers see the Just Say Now campaign? We've emailed Facebook to ask.

Just like Facebook's disastrous decision to block images of breast-feeding—an act which is protected as a right under law in many nations—because of concerns about decency, it's easy to see this as another case of Facebook pushing its U.S.-centric morals on its hundreds of millions of non-U.S. users.

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  • Pierre Delinois

    I find that articles that carry relativistic messages of this variety both perplexing and hippocritical.

    The author, as well as some of the commentors complain about FB "Forcing it's moral opinion" on another entity. What they don't realize is they are doing the very same thing. If you concede that all things are permissible and no one has the right to speak against any activity on a moral basis, you give up the right to be indignant by your very own line of reasoning and justification.

    Additionally, legitimizing the marijuana movement on the basis of it's legality in other countries and it's political voice is ridiculous. Prostitution is either legal or conciously overlooked in a number of countries (including Holland)...does that make it a legitimate practice here? A woman can be legally stoned in a number of repressive eastern societies - should the U.S. adopt this practice? If a political movement sorrounding any of the issues, would they instantly become ok or excusable? Why are those particular issues wrong, and marijuana issue "U.S.-Centric moralism"?

    If FB doesn't have the right to act upon moral convictions, what right do you have to act upon yours and criticize FB?

  • Jane Rogers

    Dear Facebook, I whole-heartedly support your right to impose whattever moral code you see fit on your site and the millions of children, teens and adults who use it. And I support my right to use or not use you site based on my own moral code. Cannot believe this pub is followed by such a group of judgemental hypocrites who feel they have the right to determine which group, company or person is more enlighted than another based on their own "moral " code. Wake up! Like all "moral" decisions determined to be legal or illegal, it is all driven by $$$$, not some "enlighted" group out to lift the oppression of their fellow man.

  • Jewls

    @ David James. You obviously are stating beliefs supported by a lack of scientific and statistical proof/evidence. Compare alcohol related auto accidents or driving while eating or while texting to those resulting from driving while under the influence of pot. Now in regards to pot drifting into a playground, etc. you must consider the fact that by the time the smoke or vapor leaves the lungs and is distributed into the environment, the parts per million is so few that the drug will have no effect on kids, neighbors, etc. The fight for the legalization on pot is not about the high, it is about the production of hemp. Hemp large-scale production is illegal in the US. Hemp is an incredible resource (i.e. fuel, paper, clothing) and at one time was the backbone of the US economy. There are towns named after hemp where it was mass produced (ie Hempstead). Also, marijuana is by far NOT addictive. Two legal substances, alcohol and tobacco(nicotine), are among the most addictive. If you have a problem with POT you need to take a look at our own society and the effects/costs/problems associated with legal substances before you start attacking one that is still illegal. Maybe you should get high! Support Hemp Production!

  • david james

    I also applaud FB for taking an intelligent stand against a drug and it's image whose proponents have for years attempted to present into the mainstream as a harmless everyday consumable drug/product. Isn't this the same type of propaganda that big tobacco pushed upon society for decades--"it's hip", "it's healthy", "it's cool", "it's sexy" "Dr's use it", "Dr's recommend it", "the smoke is good for your lungs" "if xyz celebrity uses it why don't you"... The truth is it is a fat soluble mind altering drug that is smoked and inhaled into the lungs--and the smoke does not stay there, it permeates into the neighbors apartment, the movie theater, the playground, and other public and private environments. And, the mind altering effects will produce a new wave of auto accidents, health issues, and domestic problems that will in turn put extra demand on all of our public social service workers who are already overworked. This in turn will cause our taxes to increase to deal with all of the issues caused by a drug that is almost exclusively used for the purpose of getting stoned and/or intoxicated. The groups that are pushing legaliziation are primarily doing so to legitimize something that is harmful by legalizing it and they are doing it for their own selfish drug induced fantasy so they can cheaply and easily smoke and inhale this stinky stupid weed and in the process convince everyone else to become obsessed stoners too. And, if it were to become legal who do you think would benefit the most--Big Tobacco!--Not Society~

  • Patty Lawless

    shut up fucking tight ass weed has some effects you obviously need, like to CALM down. F'n relax it's uptight ppl like you causing all the drama.

  • Peter Sharma III

    @DavidJames ~ Get your neanderthal, prohibitionist face out of other people's business. Also, try learning prior to making imperative statements. Your "facts" are without scientific basis and show a distinct lack of education in the subject at hand.

  • vince rubino

    FB is essentially just a blog aggregator, which is why it can be run by a man-child CEO. Unfortunately, it currently has no serious competition that I am aware of for the market it serves. However, most people would skip out to something new and brighter with little hesitation and this industry moves lightening fast. Seems like only yesterday MySpace was the big deal.

  • Patty Lawless

    ha ha coming to a web page near you. If these ass's don't want to smoke it then don't. Not going to force me to bend to their fucking will. 

  • John Titor

    Facebook and Apple should form their own country where they can tell everybody to do. And the rest of the world can ignore them.


    Please, think of the children. Delete your Facebook account today.

  • Scott Byorum

    Since it is legal in many states and is gaining political traction, bad move by FB.

  • Steven Howard

    Rather than blast Facebook for banning the marijuana icon, let's APPLAUD them long and loudly for taking a stance to prohibit anything that promotes smoking.

    That's an act of responsibility that should be mirrored by all corporations of any nationality.

  • vince rubino

    Yes smoking is generally not a good thing.

    However, this censorship is is possibly a cover for FBs first step in their attempt to regain access to the potentially lucrative Chinese market. ;)

  • Peter Monk

    Steven, that image does not promote smoking any more than the Canadian flag promotes eating maple syrup. It's a plant.

  • Stephen E. Hooper

    It never ceases to amaze me how some companies can be so tone deaf when it comes to issues like drugs. Facebook likes to hold itself out as a social networking site for everyone (including politicians at the extremes on the issue), yet they censor a picture of a marijuana leaf by a group of sober people who desperately seek a drug policy that makes sense.

    The U.S. has less than 5% of the world's population, yet it incarcerates more people than any other country on the planet, and the vast majority of them are there on drug-related charges. To me it is not an issue of morality, but rather sanity. How much more money will we pour down the rat hole of drug interdiction before we see the light?

    "A Facebook page for everyone, just so long as we agree with you," should be their motto, or more succinctly: TwoFaceBook.

  • drclue

    ("IF !!!!!") I were to inflict some sort of standard upon the rest of the world as a representation
    of what America stands for , I would base same on "The Constitution of The United States of America"
    and not on some particular sub segment's "morality". These days "morality" is most often a pillow case
    with eye holes whose use is driven by goals far afield from the tool of morality being swung.

    So lets take the case at hand "Marijuana". The reality of the "morality" can be summed up
    with relative ease by looking at what was in the minds of those wielding the tool at the time.

    "Harry J. Anslinger" Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN)

    ** "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."
    ** "...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."
    ** "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."
    ** "You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother."

    Yup , when someone plays the morality card , it's often just a pillow case with peep holes
    behind which one can express their hatred and bigotry while pretending to be front row
    center at their weekly meeting of "let's pretend we are moral".

    America is a secular nation , not a theocracy, and while believers are often leveraged
    to whatever ends , those doing the leveraging are typically not ones most people would
    seek out for a moral compass, be it politicians , big business or whomever recognizing
    the value of a marketing demographic that is more than willing to take any claim on
    blind faith as long as one plasters the box with a sticker right next to [As seen on TV] that reads
    ["Fortified with morality"]

  • Dean Tozzoli

    The tone of the article seems to imply that it's insulting for an American company to impress American ideals ans morals on its product.

    Okay, then whose morals should it be? The most populous country in the world is China, but their morals include limiting internet access to its people... probably not the best model for a social networking site. The largest growing spiritual population in the world is Islam, but Facebook regulated according to Sharia law would be a much different place. Holland and Portugal? Well, maybe, but as much as some folks admire their more open access to drugs, there's more to morality in the world than that.

    Envoking cafeteria morals (a little from here, a little from there) is to invite more controversy than ever. Perhaps the implication is that Facebook shouldn't impress any morals at all upon their customers. That's fine if they want to turn into MySpace at best, or the Daily Kos at worst, but those entities already exist.. there's no market for more of them, but if other platforms wish to emulate them, well, knock yourself out.

    Perhaps Facebook merely wants to adopt the moral platform that they feel- from a business standpoint - shows the most promise for long-term financial success. As a site dedicated to business success, isn't that what Fast Company is all about?

  • Peter Monk

    Dean, I agree that Facebook is free to adopt whatever moral ideals they want to and to reject whatever content they don't want on their site. My problem is that their rule ("nothing that promotes smoking") should not cause a picture of a leaf to be banned. Someone smoking a leaf, yes, but a leaf in itself, no.

    To say that "cannabis leaf = smoking marijuana" is very closed-minded. The cannabis plant has many other uses. Indeed, it used to be an important crop in many world economies until materials such as nylon were invented.

    I don't even see this as a moral issue: Facebook are stretching their own rules in order to be overtly politically correct (mustn't offend the "moral majority") and stunting thoughtful debate on these issues in the process.

  • Tim Gavan

    When the cannabis leaf is paired with the slogan "Just Say Now", a blatant parody of the anti-drug campaign "Just Say No", then it's not only safe to assume that the leaf represents the smoking of marijuana, but also to assume that the intent of the group was for the public to make that association. If Canada's motto was "we're sweet and sticky", then yes, I would come to the conclusion that the maple leaf represented eating syrup.
    Furthermore, while this is certainly an issue of morality, it is equally an issue of legality. In the contract that everyone must agree to in order to make an account with Facebook, it explicitly states that the company has the right to manage the content put on its website. Just because "Just Say No" did what most of us do and checked the box next to "I agree" without actually reading what they were agreeing to does not make Facebook the Communist dictator of the social networking world. Managing content is not illegal, smoking marijuana is. While "Just Say No" has every right to voice their support for the legalization of marijuana, Facebook has just as much of a right not to be associated with their position. If someone wants to learn more about this organization or join the campaign they can simply go to the group's website, but Facebook is a business and merely made the intelligent business decision, and arguably the ethical and moral decision, to avoid the even more damaging scandal of being accused of supporting the use of drugs to millions of people, many of whom are children or teenagers.