Gilbert Milam Jr. had a very specific desire: He wanted to share photos of weed with his 1.2 million Instagram followers.
But Instagram was persnickety, continually taking the photos down or suspending his account. So Milam, a San Francisco rapper and marijuana business owner better known by the stage name Berner, came up with a simple solution: he would create his own, unfiltered version of the Facebook-owned social photo-sharing app.
He hired a few developers and released Social Club to the public in mid-July. What happened next was predictable to anyone who studies digital behavior. Like nearly every online platform created with the goal of offering a completely censorship-free alternative in the last decade, the app rapidly devolved into a cesspool of horrific violence, illicit drugs, racism and child pornography.
Responding to the lawlessness, Apple pulled Social Club from its App Store Tuesday night. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was still available on Google Play, the app store for Android devices.
In a phone interview Wednesday, its creator didn’t sound particularly sure it deserved a reprieve, at least not without major changes.
“At the end of the day I never thought that [stuff] would hit so hard on what I created,” Berner said. “I’m all about freedom of speech and if a girl wanted to show off her body a little bit or something, that was cool, but the kind of (stuff) people were putting up — they didn’t know what they were doing.”
For Berner, freedom to post was a business matter. He uses his Instagram and Twitter accounts to promote Cookies, a notable cannabis and clothing brand with a storefronts in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
He hired a small team to develop Social Club at the end of 2018. His pitch, over and over again, was that you no longer had to worry about having your Instagram deleted or suspended based on what you post. Berner was drawing on his own experience: His Instagram account has been suspended multiple times for violating Instagram’s prohibition against using the site to advertise or sell weed.
Published: October 10, 2019
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News