By Ryan Morgan
As the heads of the leading social media platforms faced questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about their efforts to protect children who use their services, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) raised particular concern about the ease with which children may obtain potentially deadly narcotics through these online venues.
“We have had Chinese and Mexican cartels, in the words of our head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, harness these platforms … by allowing them to advertise pills laced with fentanyl,” Ms. Klobuchar told NTD News on the sidelines of Wednesday’s hearing. “Oftentimes, these kids that buy them think they’re buying a Percocet or something like that. They don’t know they’re laced with fentanyl.”
Ms. Klobuchar listed the names of several of her constituents who have died following overdoses after taking drugs they reportedly obtained through online platforms during Wednesday’s hearing attended by the heads of the TikTok, Snap, Meta, X, and Discord platforms. One victim was Devon Norring, who purchased a pill through Snap that he believed would help with his migraines and dental pain, which instead proved to be a counterfeit drug containing a fatal dose of fentanyl.
A former prosecutor for Hennepin County, Ms. Klobuchar said this prospect of illicit drug sales and purchases through online platforms is particularly concerning as it allows for a degree of anonymity for dealers that may make it difficult for prosecutors to identify them and bring charges. But, she said it strains credulity that major technology companies have not demonstrated a greater ability to stop the spread of the drug trade to their platforms.
“[It’s] impossible for me to believe that these major trillion dollar companies cannot get the fentanyl off of their platforms,” she told NTD News.
Ms. Klobuchar said as many as 30 percent of people who have become addicted to fentanyl came into contact with the high-potency synthetic opioid through online sources.
Snap CEO Says Platform is Working to Stop Drug Sales
Asked by Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) to address the overdose deaths from drugs allegedly obtained through Snap’s premiere service, Snapchat CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel expressed his sorrow for the deaths and insisted the online service has made efforts to prevent similar incidents from going forward.
“I’m so sorry that we have not been able to prevent these tragedies,” Mr. Spiegel said. “We work very hard to block all search terms related to drugs through our platform. We proactively look for and detect drug-related content. We remove it from our platform, preserve it as evidence, and then we refer it to law enforcement for action.”
Mr. Spiegel said Snap had also worked with nonprofit organizations on a campaign to spread awareness about the dangers of purchasing illicit substances online. He said this awareness campaign’s messaging was viewed more than 260 million times through Snapchat.
Ms. Butler said those efforts haven’t been good enough.
“I know that there are statistics, and I know that there are good efforts. None of those efforts are keeping our kids from getting access to those drugs on your platform,” Ms. Butler said.
Legislative Efforts to Curb Online Drug Trade
One piece of legislation Ms. Klobuchar has supported to address the online drug trade is a bill Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) have sponsored that requires online platforms to proactively report illicit drug activity on their platforms and to preserve and provide records that may assist federal, state, and local authorities investigating such drug-related activity.
Ms. Shaheen and Mr. Marshall named their proposed legislation the Cooper Davis Act in honor of a Kansas teenager who lost his life after taking a counterfeit prescription drug laced with fentanyl in August 2021 when he was 16.
Ms. Shaheen and Mr. Marshall first introduced the Cooper Davis Act in 2022 and reintroduced it again last year, but the legislation is still in the works.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Mr. Spiegel said Snap has collaborated with lawmakers on the Cooper Davis Act and is happy to support the legislation.
While the Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing touched on a range of safety issues for children using online platforms and social media, such as sexually exploitative content and potentially dangerous trends and challenges, Ms. Klobuchar said protecting online users from drugs should be a priority.
“Protecting kids from fentanyl, if we can’t move on that, how are we gonna move on the rest of it?” she said.