The families of more than 60 young people who died of fentanyl overdoses have filed a lawsuit against Snapchat's parent company, Snap, alleging that the social media app's algorithm helped connect their children with drug dealers. This blog post will discuss the families' claims, Snapchat's response, and the potential implications of this case for social media platforms moving forward.
Filed in October in Los Angeles and updated in April, the lawsuit accuses Snap of prioritizing profit over recognizing that their app had become an "open-air drug market." The families argue that Snapchat has become the go-to platform for distributing drugs to children, teens, and young adults, contributing to a significant number of fentanyl poisoning deaths among U.S. teens compared to other social media apps.
The suit points to Snapchat's key feature, where messages between users are automatically deleted, as a design that drug dealers exploit. According to the families, this feature is marketed for those engaging in criminal activities they wish to keep concealed. They also claim that Snap actively "frustrates law enforcement's efforts" to prosecute suspects by notifying drug dealers of subpoenas or legal requests and taking months to respond to requests for account information.
Snap has vehemently denied the allegations in the lawsuit, stating that it is "riddled with false claims about how the Snapchat app works" and ignores the company's efforts to combat drug activity on its platform. In October, Snap launched an informational campaign on the dangers of fentanyl and reached approximately 375 million users in 2020. The company also highlights its reach among 13 to 24-year-olds in 20 countries in North America, stating that Snapchat reaches 90% of this demographic.
This lawsuit brings attention to the responsibilities and accountability of social media platforms in preventing and combating illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, on their networks. As the case proceeds, it may prompt other platforms to reevaluate their policies and features to ensure they do not inadvertently facilitate illegal transactions.
Moreover, the outcome of this case could potentially set a precedent for future legal battles involving social media platforms and their role in criminal activities. It raises critical questions about the extent to which these platforms can and should be held accountable for user behavior and the potential harm that can be caused by their features and algorithms.
The families of the fentanyl overdose victims are fighting for accountability, seeking justice for their lost loved ones, and aiming to prevent further tragedies. As this case unfolds, it underscores the importance of social media platforms taking responsibility for their role in facilitating illegal activities and ensuring the safety and well-being of their users. The outcome of this lawsuit could have far-reaching implications for the future of social media and its regulation.