Thursday, June 05, 2014

Is Google on the wrong side of history?

My article about how Google is wiping Marijuana off their platforms has been published in Weed World this month. But my readers can read it here.

Is Google on the wrong side of history?
Thirty five years before eBay or amazon the world’s first online transaction was a bag of marijuana. In 1971 students at Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory chose weed for this seminal act of
e-commerce.

Four decades later, ‘ganjapreneurs’ are being pushed offline by the corporations. While the sale of cannabis seeds, or the weed itself, can be entirely legal within a sellers borders, go online and it all changes. Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have all banned the promotion of anything related to marijuana.

Google hasn’t just limited the ban to their online searches either. The corporate giant also owns YouTube, controls 66% of the smart phone market and created Google+, which is now the 2nd largest social network in the world.

Google's official Adwords policy doesn't allow the ‘promotion of illegal drugs, legal or synthetic highs, herbal drugs, chemicals and compounds with psychoactive effects, drug paraphernalia, or aids to pass drug tests.’
Google specifically cites marijuana as one of the several drugs for which it does not allow adverts. But what Google says and how they act appears to reflect the current laws surrounding the herb: plenty of contradictions.

According to financial reporters Bloomberg, cannabis use is high amongst the tech geeks in California’s Silicon Valley (where Google is based). This may explain why the charitable unit of Google gifted a Michigan medical marijuana advocacy group $120,000 worth of its services. Michigan Compassion is now able to promote medical marijuana use through the AdWords platform (the plain-text advertisements that pop up to the right side of any given search result). Yes, the same Adwords which explicitly bans adverts for anything related to marijuana.

Seed companies, meanwhile, are waking up to find that they have suddenly been pushed offline. The Google owned YouTube is deleting thousands of videos connected to marijuana. A growing number of seed companies have complained that their entire collection of videos have been deleted and their YouTube accounts closed. A spokesperson for Netherlands based company Spliff Seeds said, “I tried to contact YouTube but didn’t get any reply. I also tried to contact several community managers in Google and YouTube groups but without any success. I still don't know why our channel is blocked. We didn't start over because we don't want to get more penalties.”


In March 2014, the UK based Freedom Seeds had their entire catalogue of videos deleted. Their news reports consisted of exclusive interviews with Europe's top cannabis breeders and insider reports from Cannafest in Prague and Spannabis in Barcelona. Both their YouTube and Google+ business accounts have since been terminated.

Following days of frantic correspondence, a spokesperson for Google informed Freedom Seeds, “Due to your page advertising cannabis seeds it has been locked out for promoting a regulated good, thus it won't be unsuspended.”

A spokesperson for Freedom Seeds said, “Google and YouTube need to have clear guidelines and apply it to everyone. Randomly terminating the account of our seed company, which is entirely legitimate in the UK, is unfair and unjustified. There are many cannabis related channels on YouTube so why single us out and shut us down? Everything we do is 100% legal in the UK and we trade quite openly.”

With more than 1 billion unique users visiting the video platform each month, YouTube is an integral part of any company’s marketing strategy. When POT-TV had their YouTube account terminated it hit them hard as they lost their entire list of 10,200 subscribers and their 300 videos. The Canadian online channel was funded with revenues from Marc Emery's cannabis seed selling business.

POT-TV Editor Jodie Emery wrote at the time, ‘We're very upset about this, as our presence on YouTube was very strong and we had hundreds of thousands of views.’

Dutch headshop and cannabis seeds seller AzariusTV also had their YouTube account terminated. A spokesperson for AzariusTV explained, “Rather than being angry, we’re just quite sad. Sad that in the year 2014, people are still so very scared of smartshop and headshop items and feel the need to censor us.”

Despite being presented with many terminated YouTube channels, Google refuse to admit that they are forcing marijuana off their platforms.

A spokesperson for Google said, “It's not accurate to say that Google has an active policy of deleting marijuana / cannabis related videos from our platform.”

The common problem behind most of the terminations appears to be Google’s own social network platform. Many of these issues having occurred after YouTube users were forced to join Google+ if they wanted to make comments on any video.

Despite the number of examples of weed related YouTube channels being deleted shortly after joining Google+, the corporation denies any link. Google insist that their policies are consistent across both YouTube and Google+.

Google stated, ‘Once something is flagged, the team review whether the content breaches the community guidelines. Irrespective of the platform, the analysis should be the same.’

Cannabis Country is a website for news, information, and reviews on everything related to cannabis. Based in the USA, they used Google+ to promote their views. However within weeks of creating their YouTube channel in February 2014, their accounts were suspended. A spokesperson for Cannabis Country explained that their channel didn't even have any video content when it was deleted, “I had no videos at all so I don't see how I could have broken any rules regarding copyright or inappropriate content.”

One UK based seed company did succeed in having their account reinstated after being terminated. They offered advice to other companies but didn’t want to be named, in fear of Google retaliation. A spokesperson said, “This is all to do with Google+, not Youtube. I would recommend not posting on Google+. Problem is you can't get YouTube unless you have a Google+ account. If anyone gets a notification that the Google+ profile is suspended they must reply and fight their case.”

A quick search on YouTube revealed dozens of videos showing how to disconnect Google+ from your YouTube channel. This indicates just how unpopular the social network is amongst video uploaders. With marijuana being legalised in many countries across the world, Google is very clearly standing on the wrong side of history.

A spokesperson for Freedom Seeds in the UK summed up his frustration, “Most of these anti-cannabis decisions are being made by reactionary, narrow minded, right wing American businessmen who are forcing their opinions on the rest of the world. Visa, MasterCard and most of the banks are also following the same agenda. These are the last people who should be making moral judgments on my business.”


Undercurrents is an award winning alternative news service producing videos of people taking inspiring actions. http://www.undercurrents.org

1 comment:

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