Expanding our Work to Combat the Fentanyl Epidemic

January 18, 2022

Late last year, the CDC announced that more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the US over a 12 month period -- with fentanyl being a major driver of this spike. This staggering data hits home – we recognize the horrible human toll that the opioid epidemic is taking across the county, and the impact of fentanyl and adulterated drugs (often masked as counterfeit prescription drugs) is having on young people and their families in particular. We also know that drug dealers are constantly searching for ways to exploit messaging and social media apps, including trying to find new ways to abuse Snapchat and our community, to conduct their illegal and deadly commerce.

Our position on this has always been clear: we have absolutely zero tolerance for drug dealing on Snapchat. We are continuing to develop new measures to keep our community safe on Snapchat, and have made significant operational improvements over the past year toward our goal of eradicating drug dealers from our platform. Moreover, although Snapchat is just one of many communications platforms that drug dealers seek to abuse in order to distribute illicit substances, we still have a unique opportunity to use our voice, technology and resources to help address this scourge, which threatens the lives of our community members.

In October, we shared updates on the progress we have been making to crack down on drug-related activity and to promote broader public awareness about the threat of illicit drugs. We take a holistic approach that includes deploying tools that proactively detect drug-related content, working with law enforcement to support their investigations, and providing in-app information and support to Snapchatters who search for drug-related terms through a new education portal, Heads Up. 

Today, we’re expanding on this work, in several ways. First, we will be welcoming two new partners to our Heads Up portal to provide important in-app resources to Snapchatters: Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), a nonprofit organization that is committed to creating safe, healthy and drug-free communities; and Truth Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to achieving a culture where all young people reject smoking, vaping and nicotine. Through their proven-effective and nationally recognized truth public education campaign, Truth Initiative has provided content addressing the youth epidemics of vaping and opioids, which they’ve taken on in recent years. In the coming days we will also release the next episode of our special Good Luck America series focused on fentanyl, which is featured on our Discover content platform. 

Second, we’re sharing updates on the progress we’ve made in proactively detecting drug-related content and more aggressively shutting down dealers. Over the past year:

  • We have increased our proactive detection rates by 390% -- an increase of 50% percent since our last public update in October. 

  • 88% of drug related content we uncover is now proactively detected by our machine learning and artificial intelligence technology, with the remainder reported by our community. This is an increase of 33% since our previous update. When we find drug dealing activity, we promptly ban the account, use technology to block the offender from creating new accounts on Snapchat, and in some cases proactively refer the account to law enforcement for investigation. 

  • We have grown our law enforcement operations team by 74%. While we’ve always cooperated with law enforcement investigations by preserving and disclosing data in response to valid requests, this increased capacity helped us significantly improve our response times to law enforcement inquiries by 85% over the past year, and we continue to improve these capabilities. You can learn more about our investments in our law enforcement work here

Since this fall, we have also seen another important indicator of progress: a decline in community-reported content related to drug sales. In September, over 23% of drug-related reports from Snapchatters contained content specifically related to sales, and as a result of proactive detection work, we have driven that down to 16% as of this month. This marks a decline of 31% in drug-related reports. We will keep working to get this number as low as possible. 

Additionally, we continue to work with experts to regularly update the list of slang and drug-related terms we block from being visible in Snapchat. This is a constant, ongoing effort that not only prohibits Snapchatters from getting Search results for those terms, but then also proactively surfaces the expert educational resources in our Heads Up tool. 

Third, we’re continuing to make our underlying products safer for minors. As a platform built for close friends, we designed Snapchat to make it difficult for strangers to find and connect with minors. For example, Snapchatters cannot see each other’s friend lists, we don’t allow browsable public profiles for anyone under 18 and, by default, you cannot receive a message from someone who isn’t already your friend. While we know that drug dealers seek to connect with potential customers on platforms outside of Snapchat, we want to do everything we can to keep minors from being discovered on Snapchat by people who may be engaging in illegal or harmful behavior. 

We recently added a new safeguard to Quick Add, our friend suggestion feature, to further protect 13 to 17 year olds. In order to be discoverable in Quick Add by someone else, users under 18 will need to have a certain number of friends in common with that person -- further ensuring it is a friend they know in real life. 

In the coming months, we will be sharing more details about the new parental tools we are developing, with the goal of giving parents more insight into who their teens are talking to on Snapchat, while still respecting their privacy. 

And we will continue to build on this critical work, with additional partnerships and operational improvements underway.

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