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Federal authorities investigate Snapchat over alleged social media drug deals

Federal authorities launch investigation over alleged social media drug deals on Snapchat
Federal authorities launch investigation over alleged social media drug deals on Snapchat 02:52

Both the United States Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday announced that they were investigating Snapchat, the social media application run by Snap Inc. out of Santa Monica over the possible use of the platform for drug sales. 

The investigation is specifically targeting fentanyl-related instances, according to a report from Bloomberg. Attorneys plan to interview parents of children who have died from overdoses while investigators attempt to access the social media accounts of the victims in hopes of identifying suppliers. 

One local mother, Amy Neville , took a trip to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, hoping that her own investigation and plea to government officials can help make a difference. Her son Alexander was just 14-years-old when he overdosed on a pill laced with the highly toxic synthetic opioid. 

Neville says that she and her husband began to notice a change in Alexander, and asked if he had begun to experiment with drugs. After briefly denying their accusations, he came clean. 

"I wanted to try oxy," Neville said, recalling a conversation she had with her son. "I got some from a dealer on Snapchat. It has a hold on me and I don't know why."

That very same night, Alexander took the pill that would end up taking his life. 

Since June 2020, Neville has been on a personal in hopes of making sure no other parent would have to go through what she has, beginning with raising awareness about fentanyl sales made through Snapchat. 

On Wednesday, she spoke at a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee which focused on the role the popular application has played in the crisis. One of the biggest problems, especially for parents who like to keep tabs on their children's online personas, is that messages and photos on Snapchat disappear after viewing — making it an ideal platform for dealers hoping to remain inconspicuous. 

"We're at a point now where these kids are telling me that these dealers groom them just like a sexual predator," Neville said. "They become friends with them and take advantage of the fact that they are vulnerable."

Bloomberg cited sources that claim Snapchat records obtained through subpoenas have shown that teenagers have utilized the platform to contact dealers, thinking they were buying prescription pills. Instead, they ended up being either laced with fentanyl or pure fentanyl. 

The company says it has made significant operational improvements to detect and remove drug dealers from the platform and works closely with law enforcement and other groups in raising awareness of drug issues, fentanyl and counterfeit pills.

Snapchat representatives released a statement on Wednesday, saying the company is "committed to doing our part to fight the national fentanyl poisoning crisis, which includes using cutting-edge technology to help us proactively find and shut down drug dealers' accounts."

"We block search results for drug-related terms, redirecting Snapchatters to resources from experts about the dangers of fentanyl," the representative said. "We continually expand our support for law enforcement investigations, helping them bring dealers to justice, and we work closely with experts to share patterns of dealers' activities across platforms to more quickly identify and stop illegal behavior. We will continue to do everything we can to tackle this epidemic, including by working with other tech companies, public health agencies, law enforcement, families and nonprofits."

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