On October 7, 2021, Snapchat announced its initiative to develop educational content to counter the sale of deadly counterfeit pills on the app, leading users to speculate on how the changes would harm or benefit users.

With the influx of users to the platform, the popular social media company began to see a significant increase in the sale of illegal and counterfeit pills among young teens and adults, which raised concerns about the Snapchat’s security measures to prevent illegal drug sales on the app. .

The sale of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl sold through Snapchat has led to an increase in the number of deaths of young adolescents and adults in at least 15 states, leading users of the app to worry for the safety of the youngest , according to NBC News.

“Social media will always be a blessing and a curse,” said Heather Starr Fiedler, chair of the department of community engagement and professor of multimedia. “This is one of those cases where social media has allowed part of the proliferation of people to be able to use these networks to get people into things like selling illegal drugs.”

Currently, Snapchat has more than 280 million users in 2021, 38% of which are in the United States, according to the Business of Apps website.

“I think Snapchat is a huge platform used for bad and illegal activities in some people’s lives,” said Kate Pisani, an online student at SNHU. “Social media should be used to connect with family members and friends to share life updates, not to impact the mental and physical health of younger generations. ”

Counterfeit drugs, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are “fake drugs that can harm your health,” resulting in serious medical crises or even death.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram told NBC News on September 27 that social media companies were not doing enough to stop the elicitation of these counterfeit drugs on their platforms.

“They have to understand that Americans are dying,” Milgram said. “They are dying at a record rate. They must be partners to stop it.

In 2020, CBS News reported that the United States had the most drug-related deaths in a single year, with opioids responsible for 75% of overdose deaths, with many of these opioids associated with fentanyl. .

Across the country, at least one in eight teenagers has abused illicit substances in the past year, with 43% of college students abusing illicit drugs, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.

“Over time the prevention has increased, but I think there should be more monitoring of this activity,” Pisani said. “More people need to be educated on what to watch out for.”

Snapchat also commissioned its own survey from market research firm Morning Consult to understand how users aged 13 to 24 who use the app perceive prescription drugs and fentanyl.

By interviewing more than 1,449 U.S. citizens, the study found that those with higher anxiety levels used prescription drugs as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress, with 15% admitting to abusing prescription drugs and 40% knowing someone who has done it.

“I believe people use it to cope because it takes away their stress and pain,” said Alexus Metayer, a sports communication specialist at Point Park. “They don’t care about anything right now, they just want to use it to relieve themselves.”

With the increase in drug-related sales on the platform, Snapchat announced plans to develop an educational portal called Heads Up to direct users to healthcare organizations’ content on drug-related keyword searches, according to CBS News.

The app company also said it has made “significant operational improvements” by increasing its app rates by 112%, as well as proactive rate increases of 260%, which went into effect in early 2021.

“We are committed to removing illegal drug sales from our platform, and we have invested in proactive detection and working with law enforcement to hold drug traffickers accountable for the damage they cause to our. community, ”Snapchat said in a statement released by CBS News. .

While Snapchat is making progress in developing educational tools for users, the debate continues over what actions social media platforms should take to regulate content and whether big tech companies will or should be held responsible for harmful communication. on their platforms.

In 1997, the United States Supreme Court ruled that big tech companies were not
required to censor online speech and the attempted censorship provision of the Communications Decency Act was unconstitutional. The case, Reno v. ACLU (1997), stated that the restriction limited freedom of expression, going against the First Amendment. However, this does not necessarily protect Snapchat or similar companies from the consequences for not regulating certain content.

“Big tech companies like to pretend they’re like a phone company, where they just provide the line but don’t care what it says there,” Fielder said. “They keep claiming that they are not responsible for what is sent to their platform. However, the government and those who might sue tech companies will argue otherwise, saying that if there is anything on the platform, the company should be held accountable. ”

After the publication of reports by NBC News regarding the deaths of the eight teenagers who bought illicit drugs on the platform, it is not clear if any action will be taken towards the media platform on this matter.

“People use the app because it’s secret,” Metayer said. “They use it more to have a more discreet way to communicate with people for certain things.”

In part, Snapchat is still re-evaluating its methods and procedures to eliminate the increase in sales of illicit drugs on popular medium.

“Part of the reason they have [Snapchat] only taken the initiative now is because of the exposure that was recently published in the news, ”Fielder said. “Unfortunately, you have to be publicly challenged before these companies take action on these issues.”