Today, it was announced that the FBI will be investigating popular social media platform Snapchat for its role in the mounting fentanyl crisis. The photo and video messaging app, founded in 2011, has become a hot spot for drug dealers targeting young consumers.
The investigation comes after a string of teenage deaths following the consumption of fentanyl laced pills purchased through dealers on the platform. One teen, Nicholas Anzalone, passed away in 2020 from purchasing laced painkillers that he was addicted to.
Snapchat removed more than 400,000 accounts that posted drug paraphernalia. The investigation was first reported by Bloomberg.
WHY WE LOOK? Because The FBI is probing Snapchat’s role in fentanyl deaths. Victims’ families say dealers sell the pills over the platform. Last year, Snap said it removed more than 400,000 user accounts that posted drug-related content. https://t.co/BTQ2FgdjAQ
— Marvin Heiferman (@whywelook) January 26, 2023
Parents who lost children to fentanyl laced drugs, primarily painkillers and marijuana, have been pushing for the investigation for some time. The deaths span across several states, and are all linked to purchases made through the platform.
Got to tell lawmakers today about the cartel Snap runs. Snap profits from being the platform for Fentanyl laced counterfeit pills and killed 8 of our clients’ kids as a result. It’s not an accident. It’s product design. https://t.co/q8DxTKxu1l
— Carrie Goldberg (@cagoldberglaw) January 25, 2023
— Jeff Angelo (@JeffAngeloRadio) January 21, 2023
Some Republican lawmakers at yesterday’s House roundtable blame what they refer to as “President Biden’s open borders,” despite the majority of the recent deaths linked to domestic interactions on Snapchat.
"The fentanyl crisis has only gotten worse due to the open border policies of the Biden administration,” Hudson said. “Yet we know big tech is playing an increasing role in fueling this tragic epidemic."https://t.co/tXgo8eXs0l
— Richard Hudson (@RepHudsonNC) January 26, 2023
House Republicans appear to be taking a Trump-era stance on borders, blaming immigrants from Central America and Mexico for the opioid crisis. The fentanyl issue has been ongoing and still does not show a direct link to immigration.
• Enforce our immigration laws.
• Bring back “Remain in Mexico”.
• Finish building the wall.
• End incentives feeding the crisis.
Senate Republicans want to secure the border and stop the flow of deadly fentanyl into our country.
— Senate Republicans (@SenateGOP) January 25, 2023
Other Snapchat users fear that the investigation will wind up infringing on privacy.
If we hold Snapchat responsible for kids using fentanyl, let’s do the same for phone companies.. When you make a call, you would submit your drivers license, then wait for the operator to monitor your call and take notes! We’re OK with this, right?
— Joel Lessing (@joel_lessing) January 26, 2023
Some parents of victims of fentanyl lacing have lobbied across the country and created a series of lawsuits against the platform. The Seattle Social Media Victims Law Center is one of them. Seattle has faced a particularly strong opioid presence in recent years, especially among homeless people.
Seattle's Social Media Victims Law Center has sued on behalf of kids who have been injured or killed through viral stunts like the TikTok "blackout challenge" or by buying fentanyl-laced pills on Snapchat. https://t.co/VTOFpdlx3P
— America's Promise (@AmericasPromise) January 16, 2023
Fentanyl deaths in Seattle have skyrocketed so much that the morgue is running out of room for the dead.
— New York Post (@nypost) January 23, 2023
TikTok and Snapchat have become home to several viral challenges, including the blackout challenge, that involved choking or suffocating, sometimes leading to death. TikTok has made efforts to ban this content from the platform.
Some compared the widespread crisis to the ongoing mass shooting crisis in the U.S.
Saying the AR-15 is a hunting rifle is like saying Fentanyl is an anesthetic drug—it ignores the crisis.
Meanwhile, people are dying.
— Nina Turner (@ninaturner) January 24, 2023
Other activists turn to local police forces to blame, pointing to a string of fentanyl related deaths among the force and alleging that some police officers are dealers themselves.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. The strength of the drug, combined with the other drugs it is laced with, is incredibly lethal. It was initially created for pain management in cancer patients, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
The term “digital footprint” remains trending on TikTok, and refers to the long trail of content associated with a person’s online media presence. Snapchat’s format prevents much of its content from being a part of its phenomenon.
While digital privacy has remained at the forefront of public opinion for the past few years, some now argue for weakening encryption in cases like these. Because of Snapchat’s messages only being available between the messaging parties and disappearing immediately, it is hard to crack down on drug sales.
The FBI investigation into Snapchat is ongoing, and it remains unclear what action will be taken to curb fentanyl sales on the platform at this time.