Inuit crafters continue to be blocked on Facebook for selling sealskin

“Facebook is blocking people who are trying to sell their products when they’re trying to put food on the table”

In August, Facebook updated its enforcement of community standards and commerce policies under which the sale of endangered and threatened species and their parts is prohibited. (File Photo)

By Dustin Patar

For Manitok Thompson, a long-time Inuit crafter and former Nunavut MLA, Facebook is an essential way to get her products into the hands of customers across the North and around the world.

But she says she’s frustrated by the social media giant’s decision, since August, to block posts intended to sell crafts made from sealskin and other animal products.

In total, she figures that well over 40 of her items, everything from sealskin mitts to mink-lined hats, have been rejected by Facebook for failing to meet its commerce policies.

“It’s been very, very frustrating,” said Thompson.

“We’re not doing anything criminal, all these [animals] are harvested legally.”

The issue of Facebook rejecting sealskin or fur-based items isn’t new.

In May 2018, Facebook removed a listing for a sealskin hat but then later admitted that its removal was a mistake.

“This post was removed in error and we’re very sorry about the mistake. Our team processes millions of reports each week and sometimes we get things wrong,” said one Facebook spokesperson at the time.

In August, Facebook updated its community standards and commerce policies under which the sale of endangered and threatened species and their parts is prohibited.

Whereas Facebook had earlier said it blocked the posts of sealskin products by mistake, the new policy appears to forbid the sale of seal products.

Facebook says of these policies:

  • Facebook is a worldwide platform and we have been careful to design our policies to take cultural considerations into view, while also working to craft our policies for our global community.
  • While we recognize that not all seal species or seal populations are endangered or threatened, many are. As a result, we enforce a broad global standard to ensure the most vulnerable species globally are not put at risk.
  • We want to do our best to prevent the loss of species globally, be it through the sale of animals or products derived from species who are listed as endangered or threatened around the world.
  • We routinely seek feedback from Indigenous peoples and Canadians with unique needs so that we can take cultural and regional considerations into view when crafting policies that impact our global community. However, we cannot act on all the feedback we receive.

According to Facebook, these policies don’t apply to posts that reflect cultural or regional practices, provided that the posts do not promote the sale of animals and endangered or threatened species.

“We understand that Indigenous peoples and those in Northern Canada have unique needs when pursuing their traditional livelihoods across our platforms,” said another Facebook spokesperson.

“When possible, we routinely seek feedback and take regional considerations into view when crafting policies that impact a global community.”

But for crafters like Thompson, who is originally from Coral Harbor but now lives outside Ottawa, access to that global community is a major draw.

“We can sell worldwide. I have sold all over. You know, as long as it’s not something like polar bear, you can’t sell it to the states, sealskin you can’t sell it [to the states] but there are many other things, mink, raccoon, that you can sell anywhere.”

Knowing international rules makes the Facebook rejections even more frustrating.

“You just spent your time for two weeks, sometimes one week, to finish your product and finally you finish it, you post it and then you don’t get any response for a while, so you check it and it has not even been put on because Facebook blocks it and then you have to fill out the form.”

Rejection notices like the one above have appeared on more than 40 of Thompson’s posts, an issue that she says has got worse recently. (Photo courtesy of Manitok Thompson)

Facebook says that users experiencing similar issues to Thompson, who feel their rejection was a mistake, can request a review by following these steps.

But for many, filling out the form every time they post an item is a nuisance.

And there’s no guarantee the item will be approved. For some crafters, delays can be costly.

“With a high cost of living in Nunavut and a lot of people with a lack of jobs, this is something they can do. Facebook is easy. It’s a great tool. But Facebook is blocking people who are trying to sell their products when they’re trying to put food on the table,” said Thompson.

Increased rejections by Facebook have led some to try to find creative ways around the problem, including the use of syllabics, but Thompson said doing so can drastically limit your audience.

When asked what she’d like to say to Facebook, the former MLA for Rankin Inlet South/Whale Cove who also holds the title of Nunavut’s first female cabinet minister replied, “Come to Nunavut and see how much food costs and see how easy it is to make a pair of mitts and sell it on Facebook and get money and support the family. See for yourself how frustrating it is [when items are rejected].”

She would also like to see Inuit organizations, such as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., start a dialogue with the social media giant over the impact their new commerce policies may have on Inuit and the North.

For the time being, Thompson will continue to use Facebook to sell her wares despite the challenges, but fears what might happen if one day crafters like her completely lose that ability.

“I’m not sure how else we can sell our products. This is the best way of doing it.”

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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by Israel MacArthur on

    This is bothersome I’m sure, but FaceBook is a foreign company, based in a country that has, for the most part, banned the sale and import of sealskin. It is only natural that they are going to default to their understanding of American laws, even if they occasionally get it wrong. Their country, their rules, everyone else gets to play by them.

    This might be a good opportunity for a Canadian to create a Canadian version of a social media app sales app instead of relying on a foreign product.

    • Posted by Can’t decolonize on

      lol, I doubt having to educate the main crowd would be easy. Who cares about animal products? Inuit, Indigenous folk, apparently “uncivilized people”.

      You can’t shake big rule makers, I think it’s best if you adapt around it instead of forcing to change it, you’ll have better results, you know, the colonialistic way. We Inuit have been stepped on, and in recent news all year, continue to be from high prices in travel (merger agreement), raised prices in gas and food, also were not even allowed to advertised hard work on Facebook lol. But you can post suicidal crap and all this sorts of profanity, negativity and using this to gain for either political, manipulative and/or controlling behaviour, but cultural practices are banned.

      Welcome to the rest of the world (from our point of view, as we are isolated, AKA Internet)

      • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

        Well, FaceBook has about 2.5 billion users, Canadian Inuit crafters, if we’re being generous, number at most 2,000 ( to be very very generous). Do the math, they are like .00000008%.
        Canadian Inuit crafters aren’t the only ones being blocked by FaceBook, they have all kinds of issues with religious beliefs in some countries, defamation in others, politics in still others, lese-majeste in others, etc. FaceBook’s default setting is to play it safe.

        To top it off, FaceBook is in California, that has just blocked all sales of all fur products of any kind. Many of the folks in FaceBook’s home jurisdiction care very much such things. You don’t have to agree with them at all, but you do have to understand that FaceBook has to walk a fine line legally.

        Cultural practices? FaceBook is practicing their cultural practices – Californian and American cultural practices, which is their prerogative. From their perspective why should they care about a tiny bunch of foreigners far away who add little to nothing to the bottom line? It is cold, but big businesses drop users/customers who are too much effort all the time, it is nothing to do with ‘colonialism’, it is all about effort and return.

        How much revenue to you think that FaceBook makes from targeted advertising on Canadian Inuit crafters’ FB pages? I’m going to hazard it isn’t enough for them to keep track of, the market just isn’t affluent or populous enough. I guarantee you that FB knows exactly how they make in large affluent markets in New York, Los Angeles, and other centres of anti-fur sentiment. They are catering to their market, as would any other business.

        I am no fan of FaceBook at all and am deeply bothered by its effect on discourse, civility, and politics, but when you advertise on it you follow their rules and no one else’s. It is a privilege they grant, and can revoke at whim. If you don’t like it, you can always advertise somewhere else.

  2. Posted by Leroy on

    I’d like to start posting comments, and send msgs, o did not know it was going to happen.. sorry for that..

  3. Posted by Concerned Inuk on

    Facebook should implement a strick policy of progressive disciplinary action for employees which block seal skin products, starting which a verbal warning, then a written reprimand, third and finally, termination of employment.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Why would you think they would do such a thing?

      It is much more likely that they will start strictly enforcing the terms of service and more people selling fur or animal products find themselves blocked.

      We don’t have to like it, but we do have to acknowledge that support for sealskin and fur products is very much against the main stream as far as most North American consumers is concerned. It is completely illegal in California.

      If you don’t like that, stop using a California website rather than expecting them adapting to us, because it isn’t going to happen.

    • Posted by colonial inuk on

      lol, imposing you beliefs on others far away and punsihing for not following

      you get award for best colonialist thinking of 2019

  4. Posted by Ricky says it as it is on

    You cannot use the services of a free platform and impose your own regulations. You play by their rules or invent your own game. Since the latter is impossible, then these individuals have to rely on other methods and platforms to sell their products. Keep in mind despite the cultural connection of Inuit and several others with seal hunting, the vast majority of the world population does not approve of it. There is no right or wrong, to each his/her opinion.

  5. Posted by not surprised on

    Sadly, the US Corporations such as Facebook and Netflix are imposing their culture and views upon the rest of the world, while being oblivious to the fact that needs, environment, history, perceptions and cultural markers may be different. It does not apply only to sealskin.

    Unfortunately a lot of media and businesses, Canadian and foreign use Facebook and there is little choice for the customer.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Impose?? I don’t see anything being imposed, rather I see foreigners (us, in this case) eagerly adopting those American values.

  6. Posted by Life without Facebook on

    You can survive without Facebook. I left that platform over a year ago, also no Twitter or Instagram. It can be done. You can survive without social media.

  7. Posted by JOHN ELL on

    Time to talk to the Inupiat and Yupik about what’s happening here in Canada. They have very good connections in the higher-ups to deal with FB people. This is not the end. 🙂

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Except that they’re American, we’re foreigners. That’s a whole different ballgame.

  8. Posted by False information blowhard alert on

    This discussion is full of false, uninformed blowhard nonsense, especially from Mr. Israel MacArthur and a couple of other uninformed loudmouths, it’s about time somebody called bull***t on the them.

    Next time, click on Mr Google and do a little research? That way you can at least pretend you know what you are talking about.

    FALSE: “when you advertise on it you follow their rules and no one else’s”
    Facebook has claimed they are subject only to the laws of California, but governments, law enforcement agencies and courts all over the world have overruled them. In Douez vs. Facebook Inc., 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Facebooks’ jurisdictional position is unenforceable. Other courts around the world have done the same. If Facebook’s rules violate your rights, you can sue them in your home jurisdiction.

    FALSE: “You cannot use the services of a free platform and impose your own regulations”
    Facebook is not “free.” They let you use their platform in exchange for your data, which they extract from you without your knowledge or permission and sell to advertising companies without your knowledge or permission. These practices have generated huge profits for Facebook. Governments have the right to imposed regulations on Facebook and Facebook can, has been, will be, and should be regulated by governments, especially when they violate the rights of Facebook users.

    FALSE: “Cultural practices? FaceBook is practicing their cultural practices – Californian and American cultural practices, which is their prerogative.”

    Blocking ads for Indigenous fur products is not a “prerogative.” It’s a racist, discriminatory violation of rights. It’s only a matter of time before somebody takes legal action against this, and wins their case.

    FALSE: “Keep in mind despite the cultural connection of Inuit and several others with seal hunting, the *vast majority of the world population* does not approve of it.”
    There is zero evidence for this. Can you cite an opinion survey on this issue that has been conducted among the entire “world population?” Seal hunting is opposed in some segments of only a few countries, mostly in western Europe and some parts of North America. That represents only a small minority of the world’s population. It does not include China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, the countries the countries that hold the majority of the earth’s human population.

    • Posted by iWonder on

      Nice call out. I’ve noticed that Israel often applies a euro-Canadian perspective to an issue then assumes it’s a universal one. This is most common in his analysis of language issues. Much of his commentary seems designed to encourage Inuit to assimilate. I wonder if he realizes he is doing this, and what motivates him to do it?

    • Posted by Colleen on

      Thank you for your excellent, fact based reply to the bullshittery that was on this page. I don’t generally read comments that fire me up, but reading your reply was a breath of fresh air. Much appreciated.

    • Posted by David on

      Blocking ads for Indigenous fur products is not a “prerogative.” It’s a racist, discriminatory violation of rights.
      I am very curious what “rights” are being violated here. Please explain.

      Further, twice you used the word “right” in a very odd situation, I am very curious what rights you feel you are owed by any social media organization.

      • Posted by Thanks for coming out on

        Hey David:

        From Article 3 of the ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’

        “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely deter-mine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

        • Posted by Dave on

          Thanks, but didn’t really answer my question. See, the thing about rights is we all have them and one persons rights don’t automatically cancel anothers……. that’s where so many get confused…… which I see happening here.
          Inuit have the right to hunt and sell seal skin, nobody is contesting that. But that is irrelevant here, because that doesn’t mean they can sell them wherever they want. Nor does it mean a retailer cannot refuse to sell them in their store either. Those are the legal rights retailers have been granted from Federal, State and Provincial legislation.
          Face Book has a long laundry list on items you cannot sell, and when it comes to animals, pets, livestock and pelts FB is very, very picky. If my dog had pups, I am breaking FB rules by giving them away on a FB marketplace . They are that picky….. so Inuit are not being picked on here.
          I’ll point another issue out as well. Despite a very weak argument it isn’t, FB is free. That means legally, they owe very little to the users of a FB marketplace because they aren’t accepting a fee for service and legally, that drastically lowers what they owe you.

          FB is a million miles away from cherry picking seal skin and you’re a million miles away from showing any rights have been violated.

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          The US has not ratified the UNDRIP, and has no intention to do in anything like the foreseeable future. It does not guide their action. Even if it did, FaceBook’s actions are in no way a violation. Bringing it up is in no way relevant to his conversation.

          As Dave has said above, if a store owner says “I’ve said no to fur products’, that is the end of the conversation as long as they enforce it equally without regards to ethnicity, and don’t cherry pick who they apply their decision to, etc. They can’t be forced to sell a product they don’t want to,

          That is the case with FB, they very even-handedly banned a product. It applies to all, regardless of ethnicity.

          It can in no way be considered racism.

          • Posted by iWonder on

            Israel, as one who has a legal background, as you have claimed in the past, surely you know that what counts as a human right is not always codified by law, and that law itself often takes time to catch up with our understandings of what rights are. UNDRIP is a good example of this. So, when the commentor above suggested that the prohibition of the sale seal skin products is a rights violation on economic grounds the statement can both be true and inconsistent with the current legal regime.
            Which do you think is likely to change in the end, our conception of rights, or reactionary policy decisions based in popular misunderstandings and possibly even racism or fear?

            • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

              Argh, I hate this forum, I’ve lost like 3 responses to people, either deleted or the system didn’t take them.

              Long and short is:

              Sealskin production,possession,importation, and sale is criminal in the US, except for very very limited circumstances. All fur sale or production is illegal in FaceBook’s home jurisdiction.

              We, as foreigners, are beyond arrogant to expect FB to sell, what is, in their world, criminal contraband.

              That’s the long and short of it. As mentioned above, if we don’t like it, create a Canadian FB.

              We as foreigners have very little

  9. Posted by SELKIE on

    Sealskin parkas & other sealskin products should be sold
    all over Nunavut ! A ready made market and home industry.
    Instead we choose stuff made in China. How clever.
    A silly question I know, but what is Economic Development
    doing about this ? Damn all as usual.
    Hunting, skinning, pelt preparation, sewing garments, use of
    meat & by- products.
    Let the rest of the world get on with their bellyaching.

  10. Posted by Silla on

    If you don’t like colonial systems, don’t participate in them. Get organized, get creative, and get funding to build an Indigenous or Inuit-specific social media and e-commerce site. Inuit have become dependent upon Facebook, by choice, as their primary means of community communication. That’s fine as a transitory step, but if you want to opt out of colonialist structures, you have to create your own. This is the exact kind of thing the Arctic Inspiration Prize is for. Complaining is remaining in victim mentality and it is the opposite of empowerment, the opposite of decolonization. Step into visioning, creativity, innovation and initiative. That’s empowerment.

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      I’m curious about how a concept like ‘colonial’ works, and it’s too bad it is never really fleshed out. I gather from your comment that everything and anything that is not by design ‘Inuk’ (or even indigenous, whatever that means) is by default ‘colonial’. Which raises lots of questions about what decolonization implies. Is it about parallel systems to all colonial systems that, being run by Inuit, are defacto ‘decolonized’? So, an Inuk based Facebook, or Inuk based Banks or, Inuk based legal systems?
      Interesting, but it all sounds like an impossible wheel spinning venture that will lead nowhere. An Inuit based social media sales platform, for example, would have a fractional market reach. So when you say “if you want to opt out of colonialist structures, you have to create your own” I actually think you are creating a mirage, a false hope, a windmill for the tilting.
      In my opinion if you really want creative, innovative solutions you will work to incorporate your rights and perspectives into existing structures. In the long run the benefits to this will outweigh those you might reap from the creation of a parallel universe (a project that seems unlikely to succeed).

      Granted my analysis is based on a lot of assumptions. Maybe you could clear this up?

    • Posted by qalluq on

      Well said. If the Inuk sellers organized and controlled theoutput as a trade guild with own website and marketplace, it would not only free the people of Facebook and Canada’s institution, but puts them on the road to even more popular sovereignty.

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