Meta's Threads App Automatically Refers Anyone Who Searches for Weed to Rehab
Meta is censoring searches for weed and psychedelics, but still allows people to openly search for booze and cigarettes.
Published on July 10, 2023

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Meta's new “Twitter killer” app Threads automatically refers users who search for marijuana or psychedelics to drug rehab services

Any user that types “marijuana” into the app's search box will be immediately greeted with a page warning that “this may be associated with the sale of drugs.” The pop-up also says, “The sale, purchase, or trade of illicit drugs can cause harm to yourself and others and is illegal in most countries. If you or someone you know struggle with substance abuse, you can get help through confidential treatment referrals, prevention, and recovery support.”

The pop-up gives users the option to “Get Help” from federal substance abuse services, but it also includes a smaller link that allows users to see the search results. That same warning pops up when users search for most other illegal drugs, including MDMA, heroin, meth, and peyote. Legal prescription drugs like Vicodin, Percocet, Adderall, and Xanax get flagged too. But, of course, searches for legal alcohol and tobacco products do not refer users to rehab, despite the highly addictive nature of these drugs.

Meta does seem to make a distinction between cannabis and marijuana, though. Searches for “cannabis” do not invoke the drug treatment pop-up like a search for “marijuana” does. It's possible that officials may have decided to leave cannabis uncensored because the word can also refer to federally-legal hemp products. But it's also possible that the company's drug policy is simply inconsistent. Threads doesn't block searches for “ayahuasca,” for example, even though it censors most other psychedelics.

This outdated policy should come as no surprise to anyone who's familiar with Meta. Mark Zuckerberg's first two hit platforms, Facebook and Instagram, have zealously suspended, deleted, and “shadow-banned” any company that posts cannabis-related content. Those bans have even extended to businesses that don't touch the plant, including education services and media outlets like MERRY JANE. Meta claims that its policies are based on federal law, but that hasn't stopped it from deleting the accounts of legal Canadian cannabis companies.

Despite these censorship concerns, Threads has proved to be an instant hit, drawing in over 100 million new users in just under a week. And while Threads' star is rising, its major competitor seems to be tanking. Elon Musk's recent buyout of Twitter enraged the company's loyal fanbase, and many of these users are now exploring the competition. The rivalry between Musk and Zuckerberg has now grown to the point that the two billionaires have threatened to fight each other in a cage match.

Twitter still has a serious leg up on Threads regarding drug-related censorship, though. Musk, who has personally gotten in trouble for posting 420-related tweets himself, has ended his company's drug censorship policies. Under Musk's leadership, Twitter became the first major social media company to allow cannabis businesses to advertise on its platform. It remains to be seen whether or not Twitter's modern drug policies will help the company stand up against the competition, however.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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