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Red Wing man's ads for hemp clothes censored by Facebook and Instagram

John Anderes had hopes his new shirt design for outdoor retailers could be advertised on social media without a hitch. That did not end up being the case when Facebook and Instagram algorithms flagged his advertisements because the shirt was made of material the sites do not tolerate for ads: hemp.

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John Anderes shirt made of eucalyptus and hemp pictured on Monday, May 23, 2022 in Red Wing. The second material is the cause of censorship of advertising by Anderes on Facebook and Instagram.
Theodore Tollefson / Post Bulletin
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RED WING — John Anderes has been in the outdoor retail industry for over 20 years and he has never faced a problem with advertising products he creates online until now.

Anderes' latest shirt design is made from eucalyptus and hemp fiber textiles, and it's that second fiber that is a no-no for advertising on social media giants Facebook and Instagram.

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“I combined those two materials so you get strength and many other attributes out of them. It’s also the softness of the shirt, it’s right out of the box soft. That's kind of the magic of my deal,” said Anderes on the choice of textiles for his new shirt.

The shirt itself is still not for sale on the outdoor retail market. Anderes is still negotiating with retailers on inventory deals for the shirt to be in their stores.

The problem for Anderes though is that the social media platforms, owned by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, flag posts promoting the sale or use of illicit or recreational drugs, or other unsafe substances, products or supplements.

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Meta’s policy on these products states, “Ads must not promote unsafe supplements, including but not limited to anabolic steroids, chitosan, comfrey, dehydroepiandrosterone, ephedra, and human growth hormones. Drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs, rolling papers, and vaporized delivery devices.”

Meta’s policy does not state any clear messaging on the advertising of hemp-related products that are not consumable . The broadness of Meta’s algorithms on Facebook and Instagram have hammered down on any sort of product that has the word hemp in it, even if the product is not a consumable.

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May 15, 2022, Red Wing - Censorship notice from Facebook that John Anderes received regarding advertisement of his outdoor wear shirt. Anderes could not advertise this shirt as it contains hemp as a textile for its design.
Contributed / John Anderes

This has lumped Anderes in with other businesses, advocacy groups or individuals who are trying to advertise any non-consumable hemp product on Facebook or Instagram. Alyssa Erickson, public affairs and marketing coordinator for the nonprofit U.S. Hemp Roundtable shared how common social media censorship is “small man” trying to advertise their product on these platforms.

“With Roundtable, all of our advertising accounts have been disabled, and I'm restricted from advertising or doing anything on social media, Facebook or Instagram related," Erickson said. "We are a nonprofit trade organization. The last thing we tried to boost on Facebook and Instagram a year and a half ago was actually a webinar for minority-owned businesses and small businesses. We were flagged by algorithms and couldn't even promote that.”

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable based in Lexington, Kentucky, is a coalition that represents dozens of companies and organizations that work to educate the public and consumers on safe hemp and CBD products. The nonprofit currently works with advocacy groups in 10 different states including Minnesota.

When Anderes and Erickson followed up with Facebook and Instagram on these flags, they both quickly realized they were not speaking to actual human beings behind computers about these complaints. They were speaking to bots, making it all the more frustrating for them to find solutions to these flags and censorship.

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April 18, 2021, Lexington - The notice that the U.S. Hemp Roundtable received from Facebook that one of their advertisements educating page viewers about hemp
Contributed / Alyssa Erickson

“Some of these chats are robotic and it’s very hard to find any office numbers for Facebook," Anderes said. "Trying to get a person from any big company, you end up setting aside at least an hour to get a conversation going. It takes forever and bad customer service is rewarded, because you give up and go screw it. I'm not gonna dispute the charge, it's not worth 25 bucks to keep trying to dispute.”

Erickson explained that bots are just the automatic responses. And while the organization was able to get one of its minority empowerment seminar ads approved, it was an arduous process for each advertisement.

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"There's only so many times you can reach out to those types of contacts, and they didn't seem to have connections to help remove the restrictions on our account,” Erickson said.

For now, there is no solution in sight for Anderes and the U.S. Hemp Roundtable when it comes to advertising hemp products, advocacy and information on Facebook and Instagram without censorship.

Anderes has begun to divert his social media advertising to Tik Tok in hopes there will be less censorship concerns for his new shirt.

Erickson says the U.S. Hemp Roundtable hopes to have restrictions lifted off their accounts sometime this year, but does not count on it happening in any fast fashion. Until then, the U.S. Hemp Roundtable will campaign advertising through Google and direct web traffic from there.

Theodore Tollefson is a business reporter for the Post Bulletin. He is originally from Burnsville, Minn., and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a bachelor's degree in journalism in December 2020. Readers can reach Theodore at 507-281-7420 or ttollefson@postbulletin.com.
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