Recently, news stories, lawsuits, and hearings have exposed the danger social media poses for young people. Lawmakers investigated how social media harms teens’ mental health. Others criticized the profusion of pornography on social media. A January Congressional hearing centered on social media’s role in youth drug use. According to a report on NPR, since 2015, there’s been a fifteen-fold increase in overdoses resulting in death among children age fourteen and younger. These deaths are largely related to fentanyl use. The NPR report cites experts – including Drug Enforcement Agency officials – as stating that social media platforms make it easy for kids to get fentanyl. But should social media companies be responsible for online drug dealers targeting kids?
Section 230: Should Social Media Platforms Be Immune from User Behavior?
In January of 2023, parents and experts testified before Congress about online drug dealers targeting young users on social media. Those who testified urged Congress to hold social media companies accountable for illegal activity on their platforms. Moreover, they asked for a review and revision of Section 230. This federal law protects social media companies from lawsuits related to the behavior of and content produced by users on their platforms. Those who support Section 230 fear that changes will hinder freedom of expression online. However, opponents of Section 230 cite the recent upsurge in fentanyl deaths – from pills largely obtained through social media – as reason enough for a change.
What Is Snapchat Doing to Stop Online Drug Dealers Targeting Kids?
Critics say that social media companies, especially Snapchat, haven’t done enough to protect young users. Even Snapchat’s vice-president for global public policy, Jennifer Stout, acknowledged that young users are targeted by drug dealers. Stout cited Snapchat’s popularity as the cause. “‘This is where young people are, right?,’” Stout said in an interview with NPR. However, Snapchat has been slow to make changes and prevent predatory dealers from accessing the site. It’s also difficult to report illegal activity. A lawyer with the Social Media Victims Law Center, Laura Marquez-Garrett, testified to the difficulty of reporting. Marquez-Garrett told the story of a mother “‘who literally drove to Snap’s physical address” because she was unable to reach them any other way after a dealer killed her son.
How Schools Can Stop Online Drug Dealers Targeting Kids
It’s clear that students – even elementary and middle school students – face a grave danger from online drug dealers. Schools need to protect their students, and a content filter is not enough. To stop online drug dealers targeting kids in school, schools should also install screen monitoring software like LearnSafe. LearnSafe detects mentions of drug purchase and use on school-owned computers. Moreover, LearnSafe’s human monitoring system can alert schools to these incidents in real time. In this way, LearnSafe can help schools prevent tragedies – and save lives.