Snapchat And Other Social Media Sites Work To Decrease Drug Dealing

Snapchat, the popular photo and instant messaging app, is integrating a new approach to lowering the dealing of drugs on the platform. These efforts are being made in attempt to keep the community of those who use Snapchat safe from the devastating impacts of the Fentanyl crisis. 

For years, social media sites have been used as avenues for drug dealers to remotely access and influence young people to purchase illicit substances. In the last few years, the selling of deadly counterfeit prescription pills has increased. This increase has been specifically true for Snapchat where messages are designed to disappear after a certain amount of time. Counterfeit pills being sold through social media look almost identical to real prescription drugs, such as Percocet, OxyContin, or Xanax

What makes the use of counterfeit pills so dangerous is that there is a high chance that they have been made with Fentanyl, a synthetic Opioid that is stronger than Morphine and less expensive to produce than other substances. Because a lethal dose is very small, anything over 2 mg, pills containing Fentanyl have been linked to a dramatic increase in overdose deaths in the US. Teenagers and young adults are especially at risk for overdose from Fentanyl because counterfeit pills are so accessible through platforms like Snapchat. In 2020, it was reported that 48% of internet users who use Snapchat are between the ages of 15 and 25. 

DEA Public Safety Alert

On September 27th, 2021, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a public safety alert for the first time in 6 years. This alert warned of the threat caused by an increase in lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing Fentanyl or Meth. The DEA reported that just this year 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been seized. Two out of every 5 of these fake, confiscated pills that contained Fentanyl contained enough of the substance to cause an overdose

Anne Miligram, DEA spokeswoman, told Today that social media companies are not doing enough to stop the selling of these harmful pills. Milgram went on to say, “Social media companies know that their platforms are being used for this. And they need to understand that Americans are dying. They are dying at record rates and they need to be a partner in stopping it.” 

Snapchat’s New Drug Related Initiatives

Following this public safety alert, pleas from Milgram, and support from parents, Snapchat has decided to take steps towards improving this situation. The platform’s new safety initiatives include improved automated systems to detect the sale of drugs, hiring more staff to respond to law enforcement for criminal investigations, and an in-app education portal called “Heads Up.” 

Through Heads Up, Snapchat users can be educated on the dangers of Fentanyl and counterfeit pills with resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), and non-profit organizations. App users who search for certain drug terms or for substance abuse help will be directed to Heads Up. Already, the platform has teamed with Song For Charlie, a family run nonprofit, to develop a video advertising campaign on the topic. According to Snapchat, this video campaign has been viewed 260 million times thus far. Additionally, the platform will be rolling out a new national filter that will bring awareness to the issue and direct users to the Head Up portal. 

While many parents are calling for more extensive parental controls, social media platforms like Snapchat are hesitant. Even though parental controls may have the ability to prevent potential overdoses, they also may threaten the privacy of the app’s users. Snapchat responded to the rising Fentanyl crisis in a blog post saying that they are working to find the balance between safety and privacy on the platform. They hope to empower their community to express themselves without a fear of harm. 

What Are Other Social Media Companies Doing?

Although Snapchat has been the main platform linked to counterfeit pill overdose, other social media companies play a role in the overall Opioid epidemic. Facebook’s policies state that ads cannot promote the sale of illicit or recreational drugs. Despite reports of the platform being used by drug cartels, little has been done to stop these violations of the site’s drug rules. The company removes flagged pages as they see fit but many of them still operate openly. The system that allows offenders to repeat drug dealing or cartel behavior has not been changed. 

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was also said to be a place for drug cartels to recruit, train, and pay hitmen. In 2019, the photo sharing app had issues with some of their recovery based hashtags. Comments promoting the sale of illicit drugs were found on photos with hashtags, like #opioidcrisis and #opioidaddiction, that were intended to help those struggling with Opioid use. After this, the platform attempted to crack down on the use of these hashtags and make efforts to support those in recovery. 

In response to the DEA’s safety alert and Milgram’s comments, TikTok spokesperson, Hilary McQuaide, stated that the video sharing social network has systems in place to prevent drug dealing activity. McQuaide cited the app’s technology which removes accounts that promote illegal drug sales and the human reviewers who are used to find and evaluate violative material. 

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Working Together To Limit Online Drug Deals

Even though individual social media companies are making efforts to vanquish online drug dealing, very few have yet to work together on the issue. Currently, drug deals tend to occur across multiple platforms. Dealers may use one site to connect with potential buyers, another to communicate, and a third to make the final sale. 

For 6 months, Snapchat has been using intelligence from a public health data company that searches all over the internet to catch drug dealers. This includes looking on other websites and the dark web to find drug ads that list a Snapchat account. According to Snapchat, their detection skills have allowed them to increase the number of removed accounts by 112% in the first half of 2021. Sharing data between the platforms may be the key to lowering Fentanyl overdose deaths amongst young people in the US.

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Emily Murray

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  • Emily Murray is a Digital Content Writer at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Behavioral/Social Sciences and Art concentrations along with a Journalism minor from the University of Central Florida. Dedicated to creativity and conciseness, Emily hopes her words can be of service to those affected by addiction.

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