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Families want Snap to end fentanyl sales, say recent change not enough

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Amy Neville looked through the sunglasses at more than twenty parents and activists who gathered in front of Snap Inc.’s Santa Monica headquarters last Friday and asked the company to do more to fight drug trafficking on its platform. asked to do.

Neville took a second to pick up the microphone and gather himself, then began talking to the crowd in June 2020 about the death of his 14-year-old son, Alex, who was unresponsive to the floor of his room. Alex had bought fakes. An OxyContin tablet containing enough fentanyl to kill four from a dealer he met on the social media platform Snapchat.

“I often remember the horror of that morning in my head,” Neville told the crowd. “But another thing that prevents this horror from disappearing is that families across America continue to repeat their version of that moment every day.”

Neville co-organized last Friday’s rally to share Alexander’s story and hold Snap accountable for his role in his death. Neville says despite a number of new updates on the issue, his family and attorneys say the company hasn’t done enough.

“We will strive to mobilize all the resources in Snapchat and the entire technology industry to combat this national crisis and take additional initiatives in the coming months,” said Kelsey Donohue, a spokeswoman for Snap Inc.

More:Why is fentanyl so dangerous? The illicit drug ruined lives during the COVID pandemic

The updates have come under increasing scrutiny in Washington, including by members of Congress, over their role in the opioid epidemic that is killing more and more American teens.

Thousands of American teens have fallen victim to a dangerous influx of fentanyl-coated counterfeit pills, which are frequently sold on social media in recent years.

The company is changing the offer of “Quick Add” friends, so users under 18 can not be added, if the total number of friends is not known – this change is the age of the drug sellers application makes it difficult to communicate with. users.

But some parents say the changes are made by the company, while others say it’s not enough.

Dealers “can easily lie about their age in the app to avoid that,” Neville said in an interview. “It hasn’t changed enough.”

Overdose – and opioid death – rises

Neville and his wife, Aaron, founded the Alexander Neville Foundation in 2020 after realizing how many other families there were like Alex.

According to Neville, when Alex decided to experiment with drugs in the first months of the pandemic-induced blockade, he struggled first with marijuana and then with OxyContin. He contacted the drug dealer on Snapchat “easily” and started buying what he thought was OxyContin and disappeared within a month, he said.

“At first we thought it was a rare case,” Neville said of Snapchat about people buying fake tablets associated with fentanyl. “But as we started to learn more about it, we realized it was happening on a regular basis.”

Rise of fentanyl:How synthetic opioids took over the drug scene in Indianapolis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental drug mortality among Americans under the age of 24 increased by 50% from 2019 to 2020, making it the most lethal overdose in any age group. is the largest increase.

According to the CDC, overdose deaths claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people between April 2020 and April 2021. Three out of every four of these deaths were from opioids.

In 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than 14 million counterfeit tablets and more than 12,000 pounds of fentanyl – a significant increase over previous years. In September, the agency issued its first public safety warning in six years to warn of the possibility of taking counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and increasing the frequency of seizures.

While it’s not clear exactly how many drugs were sold through Snapchat – the company has legal protections for user-created content and it remains a private company – global public policy vice president Jen Stout said the investigation ‘rovs increased by 500%. According to an email sent to Neville and other parents in September, law enforcement in 2021 compared to three years ago.

More:In Connecticut, 100 bags of fentanyl were found in the bedroom of a teenager who overdosed at a school.

Last week, Snap Inc. posted a report on its website about measures being taken to combat drug trafficking. According to the report, the company currently detects 88 percent of its drug-related content through machine learning and artificial intelligence technology, an increase of 33 percent since the last mass update in October 2021.

If it detects drug trafficking activity, the company will block the account, block the user from creating new Snapchat accounts, and in some cases send the account to law enforcement. Snap also said it has expanded its law enforcement operations team by 74 percent.

“Over the past year, we have significantly strengthened our tools to actively detect drug trafficking activities and close dealers, improve our support for law enforcement, and inform Snapchatters about the devastating risk of counterfeit pills associated with fentanyl,” he said. “Donohue, Snap,” he said.

At a press conference on Monday, August 31, 2020, more than 6 kilograms of fentanyl worth $ 1.4 million in addition to tablets and cash were seized.

Raising awareness, remembering the son

Since Alex’s death, Neville and her husband have set themselves the goal of raising awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and their son’s easy purchase of illicit drugs through social media.

“We gathered here in June to protest [Snap’s] lack of action and transparency, “Neville told the crowd at Friday’s rally.” We’re back to that today and we’ll continue to show ourselves. ”

Congress has acknowledged the potential dangers of social media for children, with a series of hearings in recent months by representatives of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok testifying about the impact of their apps on American children.

At a court hearing in October, Senator Amy Klobuchar asked D-Minn to provide more information about an automated tool that Snap uses to search for drug-related content.

Jennifer Stout, Snapchat’s vice president of global public policy, responded: “We have stepped up and taken proactive detection measures to determine what drug traffickers are doing.” “They’re always avoiding our tactics, not just on Snapchat, but on every platform.”

For example, dealers who regularly delete their posts from the company’s content moderators often suggest new jargon terms to get past moderation tactics, Stout explained.

At a press conference on Monday, August 31, 2020, more than 6 kilograms of fentanyl worth $ 1.4 million in addition to tablets and cash were seized.

According to Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Center for Illegal Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, updating Internet rules and Article 230 of the 1996 Communications Act will be key to bringing social media platforms to justice in the future.

Currently, “platforms cannot be held accountable for user-created content,” he said, as a tool to “protect freedom of speech and expression”. As a result, Snap is not responsible for content posted by dealers, and the company is not legally obligated to remove dealers ’accounts from the platform.

“The problem is that drug trafficking is not a matter of free speech,” he said. It’s a criminal act, ”Peters said. “In our view, there should be a law to identify differences and make it illegal for criminal sales to take place on platforms in general.”

Until such a law is passed, Neville says he will continue to rally and seek change on behalf of his son.

“We strive for change until everything is different or until we are gone,” Neville said.

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