It’s been an interesting week for cigar lovers and Facebook.
Many cigar lovers woke up to a flurry of messages and notifications on Tuesday morning that some of the most prominent cigar groups on the site were changing names, status and visibility, while others were shut down by the social networking site, the result of what appeared to be a crackdown on person-to-person sales of cigars, something that has happened to similar groups that discuss guns and alcohol.
What exactly the violation was hasn’t been disclosed to Era, who told halfwheel that Cigar Cartel didn’t allow any harassment, threatening or hateful remarks within the group and prided itself on preaching class and integrity while maintaining a “drama free zone.” What might have gotten Cigar Cartel shut down was the fact that it was the environment where a number of sales of cigars originated, something Era readily admitted. “We are the ones who brought the ‘eBay of cigars’ to Facebook,” he said. “Part of the reason we gained popularity!”
But then, the group suddenly came back on Wednesday morning.
Another group that was shut down, The Habana Hideaway, was also said to be a place where members frequently engaged in the sale of cigars. Even groups that may have facilitated box passes–trades that involve multiple people contributing cigars as part of a larger exchange that doesn’t involve money—may have done enough to be shut down, but that group too has come back. A similar group, The Cigar Syndicate, was also shuttered before being reinstated.
One group so well known for promoting cigar sales and trades that its acronym–C.A.T.S.—stands for Cigar Aficionado Trades and Sales, remains active, albeit now as a secret group on the site. With 12,709 members, it is certainly a sizable group that would seem ripe for being shut down by Facebook, yet remained active.
A spokesperson for Facebook told halfwheel that the groups were removed in error earlier this week, and confirmed that they had since been restored. No additional information about what triggered their closure has been offered by the company.
One of the key issues that suggested why these groups might have been shut down by Facebook is that they may have violated the company’s terms of service or other guidelines by promoting–or at least facilitating–the sale of regulated goods, as well as whether or not they took an active role in limiting access and visibility of the group to Facebook users that are at least 18-years-old. Per Facebook’s Page Guidelines, “pages promoting the private sale of regulated goods or services (including firearms, alcohol, tobacco, or adult products) must restrict access to a minimum age of 18.”
Additionally, the site’s policy on regulated goods in its Community Standards states that:
We prohibit any attempts by unauthorized dealers to purchase, sell, or trade prescription drugs, marijuana, firearms or ammunition. If you post an offer to purchase or sell alcohol, tobacco, or adult products, we expect you to comply with all applicable laws and carefully consider the audience for that content. We do not allow you to use Facebook’s payment tools to sell or purchase regulated goods on our platform.
Both appear to be safeguards set up by the company to prevent unauthorized sales of numerous products to minors or across state lines, a liability for which the company would understandably not want to be responsible. The company has not yet responded to a request for comment on this, and it would seem to remain a possible reason for Facebook to monitor and possibly close down certain groups again, should they feel that minors might be getting access to tobacco products by way of a certain group.
While concern about a liability for the exchange of tobacco products hasn’t appeared to be much of a concern for the company prior to this week, it is certainly one that has been affecting groups focused on other age-restricted and controlled products.
On Jan. 29, Facebook issued a statement saying that it would be cracking down on private gun sales and ammunition conducted via the site. A USA Today article says that Facebook “will ban users from coordinating private sales of firearms on the social network and on mobile app Instagram.” However, the ban does not apply to licensed gun dealers for purchases completed away from the site.
That came on the heels of a March 2014 decision to block minors from seeing posts about gun sales and trades, while also requiring such pages to include language that outlines required compliance with laws and regulation. The article goes on to say that pressure to make such a move can be attributed to both President Obama and numerous state attorneys general due to the lack of background checks that go along with such sales.
The change in policy brought firearms and ammunition in line with Facebook’s policy towards pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs, including marijuana. despite a growing movement towards legalization.
Marijuana groups and retailers have also been under heavy attack this year, with The Guardian reporting in February that dozens of firms have had their accounts shut down. A similar report was filed by Phoenix New Times.
Alcohol-related groups have also been targeted recently, as The Bourbon Truth reported on Monday that “almost every Facebook Group that included the sale of bottles got deleted.” This has been confirmed by members of halfwheel’s sister site, Tenemu, whose staff members noticed a number of beer-related groups, particularly those with a propensity towards the sale and trade of bottles, going dark in recent days. Fred Minnick, who chronicles the bourbon world, noted a similar shutdown of bourbon-related groups on Monday, only to see them return by Wednesday.
It does not appear that licensed tobacco retailers have been affected, as numerous stores still have a very active presence on Facebook, as do many other groups that simply discuss premium cigars but don’t promote or allow the sale of cigars amongst members. Derek Marinelli, who runs the AZ Cigar Smokers group, said his group has not been shut down, though he did make sure that it was limited to people over the age of 18 in addition to changing the description of the group following the shut down of other groups to include “This group does not participate is the sale or trade of tobacco products (cigars).”
It appears that the discussion and exchange of cigars will continue on Facebook, albeit in groups with much less visibility than before and ones that should have a better understanding of the site’s terms and guidelines. However, it’s clear that Facebook has turned a watchful eye onto premium cigar groups and the activity that goes on inside them, which could bring about more closures in the future.