Call it modern-day bootlegging– selling alcohol on sites like Facebook has always been illegal.
But within the last few months, the social media giant has taken action to make sure its users are following the law.
Facebook is deleting all pages and groups pertaining to the sale of alcohol, including the popular “Bourbon Secondary Market” page.
Bourbon enthusiast and host of the Bourbon Pursuit podcast, Kenny Coleman, was one of the first to find out.
“We had the opportunity to be the ones who kind of spilled it to the world, and it was an email that came from Facebook saying, ‘If you don’t change these rules, we are going to shut the group down,’” Coleman said. “But there were about 50,000 people in this group and trying to say there’s no buying and selling anymore is hard.”
The following notification was sent from Facebook’s Community Operations team:
We’re reaching out to let you know about a change to our Community Standards that will impact your page. To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we develop policies to address attempts to purchase, sell or trade products that are commonly regulated. While we allow people to talk about alcohol products, we will not allow people to sell or purchase these regulated products on our site. This has always been true in places like Marketplace and Commerce posts in groups, but we will now extend this to organic content, and we will be updating our Community Standards accordingly. We are beginning to enforce this police change on groups and pages we discover to be set up for this specific purpose.
For this reason, we require that you remove any reference to sales of alcohol from your page within the next 48 hours. If this page continues to facilitate the sale of alcohol, it will be removed.
We ask that you make the following changes in order for your page to comply with our policies: Remove any reference to buy/sell/trade/of alcohol in page description and update the title of the page to be clear the purpose of the page is not for peer to peer alcohol sales.
The notice required the page administrator to remove all mentions of alcohol sales and to change the name of the group within 48 hours. Two days later, the page was shut down.
Coleman says, “No one really knows where the crackdown is coming from… you don’t know if it is the ATF or FBI. You’ve also got some conspiracy theorists who say the brands are behind this.”
Either way, Coleman said it’s affecting bourbon connoisseurs all over the country. “Say you live in Kansas or you live in a control state and you can’t get something that’s a highly allocated bourbon, you don’t have another option,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult.”
Coleman says the secondary market is positive for the bourbon industry in four specific ways. He says it helps set a market value, it connects buyers and sellers, it helps brands and retailers gauge quality and price and it pushes bourbon culture forward. He says you can still find secondary market groups on Facebook, but you have to be connected.
“It’s just in smaller pockets of 1,000 or 2,500 members,” he said. “And it’s not called a ‘bourbon secondary market.’ You have code names. You’ve got no pictures. You’ve got emojis instead of using text, so there are a lot of things with it that are almost cryptic now.”
The podcast host said he tries to keep his pulse on the market for his 35,000 regular listeners, so he’s still in about 60 private secondary market groups, but he’s cautious about taking part. As for the whether the Facebook crackdown will have a lasting impact, Coleman thinks the long-game of the bourbon industry will prevail.
For another perspective on the secondary market, WLKY reached out to several Kentucky distillers.
Heaven Hill Distillery Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll seems to see positives and negatives to it:
“Through the secondary market, we see direct consumer interest for varying American Whiskey types that help us understand what consumers are eager to find. We can then turn to our innovation planning and see what we have available to fit those interests. The flipside of the coin is that we provide a wide range of affordable, high-quality products, yet consumers can get gouged on limited edition products simply because some people have access to products and then sell them at an astronomic price online. Likewise, there is grave concern over counterfeiting and authenticity. Those concerns just don’t exist when going through traditional channels. Buyer beware.”