Snapchat has announced a series of measures it’s taking to counter drug dealing on its platform, and to educate users about the dangers of fentanyl and other drugs. When users search for drug-related keywords like “fentanyl,” Snap says it will direct them to a new educational portal called Heads Up. It’s also ramping up actions against drug dealers on its platform, including improved in-app reporting tools and proactive detection.
The announcements follow a recent investigation by NBC News into a spate of deaths involving teens and young adults who were suspected of having bought fentanyl-laced drugs through the social network. The report alleged that drug dealers are able to use Snapchat to find buyers, and that the platform isn’t doing enough to remove their accounts and keep them off the platform. The social network was also accused of taking too long to provide information to law enforcement. However, Snap says the initiatives have been in development for months, and that today’s announcement would have happened regardless of the NBC News report.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s complicit in an alarming increase in deaths in the United States in recent years. In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the US are believed to have died from overdoses involving opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. According to Snap, drug dealers include fentanyl in counterfeit Vicodin or Xanax prescription pills, which are then bought by unwitting customers.
In its blog post, Snapchat stresses that it’s taking more enforcement action against dealers on its platform. It says that enforcement rates have more than doubled in the first half of 2021, and that its systems have proactively detected 260 percent more material than it did previously. It says that nearly two-thirds of drug-related content is proactively discovered by its artificial intelligence systems and adds that it’s improved its response time to valid law enforcement requests by 85 percent year over year. Nevertheless, Snap admits it still has more work to do.
As well as more proactively removing drug dealers from its platform, Snap points towards research its commissioned that suggests some users are unaware of how dangerous fentanyl can be — something its Heads Up portal is designed to address. Snap says it will be promoting the portal, as well as the dangers of fentanyl more generally via a new filter, and that it will also discuss the crisis in upcoming episodes of its Snap Original show Good Luck America. Expert organizations contributing to Heads Up include Song for Charlie, Shatterproof, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), with resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be added in the coming weeks.
Update October 7th, 6:51AM ET: Updated with Snap’s statement that its work on the initiatives predate the report from NBC News.