Social media has not only accelerated teens’ exposure to adult content but also increased access to recreational, illicit, and potentially deadly drugs. How are youth finding information and purchasing drugs via social media, and what are the impacts? What is the dark web and what is its role in youth drug use and drug trafficking? What can parents and policymakers do to protect children from harm?
Children and Screens held the #AskTheExperts webinar “Social Media, Drugs, and Youth: What Parents Need to Know” on Wednesday, February 15, 2023 at 12pm ET via Zoom. A panel of clinicians, public health experts, drug intelligence officers, and child safety advocates provided a glimpse into the world of teens and drugs on social media, and shared practical information and advice for parents and caregivers to increase their awareness and ability to safeguard their adolescents and teens.
Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAPProfessor of PediatricsModerator
Tim Mackey, MAS, PhDProfessor of Global Health; Director; CEO and co-founder
Robert F. Lawlor Jr, MS-ADPP, MS, BSCJDrug Intelligence Officer
[Kris Perry]: Welcome, everyone to today’s Ask the Experts webinar, Social media, Drugs and Youth: What Parents Need to Know. I am your host. Kris Perry, executive director of Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Today’s webinar topic is one that can be concerning and even downright scary. For many parents, though, teen drug use is not a new challenge, it is one that has certainly changed in the growth of youth technology use. First was cell phones and now social media. These devices are inherently changing the ways that youth may encounter drug related content, contact or be contacted by drug dealers and access to drugs. This also means that strategies that parents, schools and communities use to prevent or intervene have to change. But this can be difficult in a digital landscape that is ever evolving at a faster and faster pace. Our panel of experts, which includes a pediatrician, a global health scholar, a drug intelligence officer, and a parent with firsthand experience is here to help us all better understand how social media is increasing youth access to drugs, and to share practical information and advice for any caregiver, educator or policymaker seeking to safeguard children and teens online. The panel has reviewed your pre submitted questions and you may use the Q&A box at the bottom of your Zoom screen to submit any additional questions you may have throughout the webinar. The panel will answer as many of these as they are able through the presentation and group discussion across the next 90 minutes. We are recording this webinar and will share it on our YouTube channel in the coming days. All registrants will receive a link to our channel where you can also watch the past 55 webinars. Without further ado, I am honored to introduce you to our today’s moderator, Dr. Colleen Kraft. Colleen is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, clinical professor of pediatrics at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her background includes work in primary care pediatrics, pediatric education and health care financing. She is also a member of the Children and Screens Scientific Board of Advisors and leads the Institute Policy Workgroup. Welcome, Colleen.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you so much for that introduction, Kris. Thank you to all of our panelists who are here and to all of those who are watching this really important topic. We think about what we need to do as parents to keep our children safe. And social media has become a place that has been a landmine for many of our parents for many reasons. There are predators, there are drug dealers, there are things that our kids are encountering. And for most of us who are parents, we don’t have the knowledge, the digital knowledge, that our teenagers have. And so this becomes a place for advocacy. How do we make social media safer? How do we enable parents to monitor what’s going on with their kids, not to be somebody who is really intrusive, but if something comes up, how do we know about it? How are we able to get that first word that a child may be having some mental health issues or may be involved with drugs or might be purchasing a gun? This is all of what our panel will be talking about. And we are going to start with Samuel Chapman, who’s going to talk about the story of his son, Sammy, and how this whole tragedy really got him involved in terms of advocacy. So Samuel Chapman is our first speaker. He’s a venture capitalist author, television producer, publicity agent, and president of the Berman Institute, LLC. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Dr. Laura Berman, and their two sons. His third son, Sammy, died two years ago from a counterfeit drug containing fentanyl, which he found on Snapchat. And Samuel will tell us a little bit about their interaction and how Snapchat protected the privacy of the drug dealer. And not of their son. So I’m going to let Samuel talk about Sammy and his story. And have you have Sammy’s voice elevated in everything that you are saying and doing through your presentation. Thank you so much for being here. And let’s hear from Samuel Chapman.
[Samuel Chapman]: Thank you. So I’m what we’re calling an accidental activist. My family’s story is meant as a cautionary tale for others. It’s hard to tell, but I tell it so that either you’ll be warned or you can warn someone else that the culture of drugs, experimentation among teens, is now a lethal road. It wasn’t like when we were growing up. So what happened to me was two years ago, almost to the day, it was Super Bowl Sunday. I had delivered my son a cheeseburger, told him I loved him, left him safe up in his room, playing on his computer where his mother and I were both sure nothing bad could happen. It was during lockdown, and that was the one benefit of the lockdown. Fortunately, that kids moved in packs online and it helped them socialize, but it also helped them get in trouble together, and it helped drug dealers find them together. So the drug dealers go on to Snapchat, which is the dark Web for children now. They pretend to be 15 or 14 years old and they network inside of a school, say, some place where they think the kids will have money. My son was presented with a drug menu with colorful emojis and different prices. He was told he could get that for free if he helped the guy network and adjust his menu. Why would a drug dealer offer drugs for free to people? Why use fentanyl at all, since two grains of salt worth is enough to kill a human being? And the answer is it’s the most powerful street drug we’ve encountered before. You wind up addicted after one dosage. So if it doesn’t kill the person, they have a good customer forever. And it’s also, since it’s so small, it’s easy to smuggle and therefore more valuable to the cartels that are moving it across our border. So I go into my son’s room, deliver him his food, say I love you. An hour later, his brother discovers him on his back and what I call the fentanyl death pose. He screams out, my wife and I go running into the room. She dials 911. I start trying to resuscitate our son to no avail. The ambulance shows up, the firemen show up. They work on him for another 45 minutes, also to no avail. While my wife is screaming and howling and my son is running around trying to hide the other boy, trying to hide from all of the pain and the drama and the lack of belief that something like this could be happening to us in our own home. So my wife goes online and warns people. Goes to her Instagram and tells what happened and puts up the drug menu and says, watch out for this guy. At the bottom of the drug menu, it says “Mr. Dan, @MrDan, I deliver.” So our son had gone out while we were asleep and had the drugs delivered to him in front of our house like a pizza. It was that easy for him to do it. And the kids, you know, they all feel protected on Snapchat because the snaps go away. You know, we all know that they’re all one screenshot away from immortality and that it’s not really a safe platform. But, it has attracted the kids and therefore, it has also attracted the drug dealers. It should also be noted that it is a geolocation device. So believe it or not, this, you know, innocent social media platform is actually letting people know the physical location of our children. So we have been on to Snapchat to try and get them to change their behavior. And I’ll tell you about that in a moment. But the police showed up at our house and, you know, we said let’s call this drug dealer right now and get them to show up at the house. They said, you know, that’s not that’s not how we do it. Well, let’s go to Snapchat and find out who he is. And the police told us that Snapchat doesn’t help. They’ve stopped trying because Snapchat doesn’t help with these cases. So after my wife goes on Instagram and posts what happened, it goes viral. She’s a media person, and the media watched her Instagram. The police who told us not much would be happening for two or three months until the toxicology report was finished, show back up the next day with a detective and start doing what they should have done to begin with, which is treat it like a murder scene and not like some drug overdose. That was an important learning, I think, for the Santa Monica police. They were smart enough to get the DEA involved. And while local police do not have much luck with Snapchat, the DEA does. And between the DEA and Santa monica police, they did find our son’s drug dealer slash murderer. We’re in one of those cities where the district attorney doesn’t care much about the families of the victims and cares more about the perpetrators and attorneys. The district attorney decided not to prosecute our son’s murderer, much to our dismay. So we have been on a road to warn others. It’s up to parents now to protect ourselves. There’s a software program called Bark you can buy that will warn you what’s happening on your kid’s computer, or if a drug emoji is used or suicide is mentioned. We recommend getting your kids’ username and passwords for all of the devices and the platforms they’re on so that you can check up as much as you’re able, or if someone doesn’t show up at night, you can go on those platforms. Don’t forget the gaming platforms. Predators are on the gaming platforms the same way they are on Snapchat, grooming our kids, pretending to be young, playing games with them for weeks and then dropping the hammer. You should also know that Discord’s, the gaming platform from Microsoft, Snapchat’s, Tik Tok’s, and Instagram’s instant messaging don’t allow for parent monitoring software integration. Bark.us is the website. We are pushing for what’s being called Sammy’s Law to require any platform with children on it to allow for parent monitoring software integration so that we can all have visibility into what’s happening online with our children. That is my story. I have been telling it high and low. It isn’t easy to tell, and I hope that today it helps another family not go through what we’ve been through. Thank you.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Well, thank you so much. And really, this is Sammy’s voice elevating this situation in and watching out for that next child. As we think about our kids and our kids who have passed on, sometimes their voices after they’ve died are more important than what they could have ever have done in their life. So thank you for sharing Sammy’s story. We have one question about how to get the information from Snapchat on the drug dealer from your son’s phone. How does one do that if you’re a parent and you’re not familiar with social media?
[Samual Chapman]: You don’t, they don’t give that out. Basically, they’ll deal with the DEA on it. They did help and eventually help in our case because the media picked it up and Snapchat was embarrassed. We were protesting outside Snapchat’s headquarters. Evan Spiegel spoke to me. I asked why we couldn’t have more visibility into the platform, and he said it was a privacy concern. And I told him that children only have the privacy that their parents deem appropriate at a certain age and that Snapchat was in the way of that. Privacy was not their business to protect, but ours. And right now, they had too much privacy. And so I believe that was the last parent meeting that he took. I told the media what he said. They didn’t like the way it went. We definitely have been trying to raise the voice about how dangerous Snapchat is for children.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. How do you recommend that people reach out to the DEA if they find somebody is contacting their child?
[Samuel Chapman]: Right. Well, you can find your local DEA office online. They are very helpful. They are the one arm of the federal government that gets this, that’s there for parents when something happens. And if the local police aren’t doing their job, you can ask the DEA to come help out. So all you have to do is look them up online.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit about Parents for Safer Children? Now, I heard about your organization and I’m actually on your Facebook page and following on social media as well, too. And I think the words that you have out there are really important. But what really strikes me are all of the other parents that have come on there and said, this is my story, too.
[Samuel Chapman]: That’s right. We were flooded with people telling us that the same thing had happened to them, looking for advice. So we created a community online on Facebook called Parents for Safer for Children. And it’s sort of a grief support site, a fentanyl poisoning support site, if you will. And it’s grown to almost 14,000 different people who have suffered the same fate that we have. And it is a very therapeutic, supportive group of people who are there for you when this tragedy hits you.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you. You know, if Snapchat has been involved in more than one situation, why can’t they be charged as an accomplice?
[Samuel Chapman]: So there’s something called Section 230 of the Internet Decency Act, which treats online platforms like the telephone, the way you couldn’t sue the phone company for two criminals having a conversation on there. That’s the way they treat these Internet platforms. We need that repealed. There are other things coming out. There recently floated the idea that no one under 16 should be allowed to go on social media, that should be a rule. Or that people under 18 should have to produce an ID to get a social media handle. But the fact that they can’t be sued under the Internet Decency Act, Section 230, is what gives them the ability to act with impunity and gross negligence. I mean, they have the technical ability to shut this down right now. Every drug dealer could be kicked off the platform and then kicked off the platform again if they found their way back on. But that’s not the way social media companies get paid. The more users, the higher the stock price. That’s the math for them.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. Parents for Safer Children, are there any programs or anything that we can direct our parents to to really help children be active participants in their own protection?
[Samual Chapman]: Well, yes, We have a public service announcement on Parents for Safer Children and parentssaferchildren.org and .com. It tells Sammy’s story, letting kids watch that public service announcement or go on the Facebook page and read about other children who have passed away and what their story is. I mean, kids learn from kids. They learn that way best. So, that’s the best we can do. We’re just a bunch of parents supporting each other. It isn’t even a formal organization. It’s just a way of reaching out. The way one couple tried to reach out to the rest of the world to stop the pain.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: And really prevent the next child from doing the same thing. I mean, our teenagers often feel like they are immortal. And sometimes seeing those stories in black and white really make a difference for them. Well, thank you so much for everything that you’re doing. Thank you for sharing Sammy’s story and thank you for your advocacy in promoting Bark and promoting Sammy’s Law so that we can actually get some legislation that will protect children.
[Samuel Chapman]: Right. Well, also be sure to carry some Narcan or Zimhi in your house if you can think of it, you know. Narcan is now available without a prescription and it’s the tool I wish I’d had that day.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Absolutely. I mean, that would have made a big difference. And thank you for letting us know about that as well, too. That’s not something the parents know, that Narcan is available without prescription. I’ve actually had some parents ask me about a prescription for it, and I’ve been able to tell the same sort of thing because they’ve been concerned about their child experimenting with drugs. And they’ve been concerned about fentanyl.
[Samuel Chapman]: Yes, Yes.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Well, thank you. We’re going to move on to our next speaker. Robert Lawlor Jr. is our next speaker. He is the Connecticut drug intelligence officer for the New England high intensity drug trafficking area overdose response strategy. Robert previously worked for the city of New Haven, Connecticut, and the Department of Police Service. And he’s going to talk to us about some of the drug enforcement solutions that we have to help to combat this problem. So, Robert, take your stage.
[Robert Lawlor]: So I wanted to start with this. Social media, a lot of it has to do with the algorithms. Social media algorithms send drug content to your kids. In 2021, The Wall Street Journal, in an investigation where they created fake accounts of children, who were supposed to be 13 to 15. In one account, got over 569 videos of drug use, which included cocaine and methamphetamine. You know, in this speech, right to what Sam was saying, these Internet companies and these social media companies, they just send these videos and drug dealers right to your kids in your own living room through their mobile devices. It’s pretty scary. So another project done by the Tech Transparency Project found that Instagram is also a major culprit. And they did a program where they also created, you know, some fake accounts. But, you know, Instagram pledges to make all under 16 accounts private by default. However, that Transparency Project found that, you know, this wasn’t true on all accounts and that a lot of the under 16 accounts created through Instagram website were public by default, which means you’re 15, 14, 16 year olds’ Instagram account is public open and for anybody to see, and you need to actually manually go in there and change the settings inside of Instagram. Instagram also banned some drug related hashtags like MDMA, which is for the party drug Ecstasy. But again, Instagram is a bad actor. If teens search for MDMA, Instagram will autofill alternative hashtags for the same drug into the search bar and bring the children right to these videos and these Instagram stories. When a teen account followed a drug dealer on Instagram, the platform started recommending other accounts selling drugs. This is incredibly dangerous. You know, if you follow one person who may be a drug dealer and now you’re getting bombarded by other drug dealers, this just creates a very bad situation for our kids. And on these platforms and this isn’t just for Instagram, all of these platforms, you can very easily find drugs and drug dealers. It’s pretty pervasive how easy it is to actually find drugs on these sites. But this may be the most disturbing thing I found in this project. It takes you two clicks to find drugs on Instagram, but five clicks to log off. Think about that. In two clicks, you can find drugs, but if you wanted to log off the service, it takes you five points. This is pretty horrible stuff. The other thing, and Sam touched on this a little bit, Snapchat actually has a feature where if you’re in proximity to people, they can add you or they can ask to be added to your story. So, you know, you can be in the presence, you know, in an area, and if there’s drug dealers in that area, they can just start bombarding you with requests to add that and then share their drug menu with you, try and coerce you into buying drugs, try to meet up with you. It’s a problem. And, you know, Snapchat, of course, is one of the biggest ones, because what we find is that in a lot of cases, young people will find drug dealers through maybe Instagram or Tik Tok and sometimes Snapchat. But then a lot of times they move to Snapchat to actually do a lot of the drug dealing. And they will actually move because, like Sam said, you know, the snaps go away, they vanish after a period of time, so it’s hard to recover them. The other thing, too, is, you know, this creates major issues, but the Social Media Victims Law Center, which is doing some really good work, has filed several lawsuits against Snapchat for the killing of, you know, being linked to deaths of people online from pill dealers. And I think this is really great work and it’s important. And, you know, this is just unfortunately, some of the people that the Social Media Victims Law Center is filing on behalf of, too many of our loved ones and our young people are being lost to the fentanyl and the overdose crisis. This wall of people that, you know, they can actually tie to Snapchat is just heartbreaking. But, and I’m sure, you know, Sam could back me up on this, it’s hard to actually tie a social media company to the death. So we know this is probably, you know, less than a percent of the people who actually have died of a fatal overdose that can be connected to some social media site because it’s extremely hard to actually enact people to their social media and actually bring a case against them, whether civilly or criminally. So this is a study that was done and published in the CDC MMWR. And really, I think this is important because this is a major issue. Fake pills are a major problem throughout the United States. And 25% of teen drug deaths since 2019 are attributed to fake pills. And fake pills are everywhere across the country. They’re mostly fentanyl. We know from the DEA reporting that six out of every ten pills have a deadly dose. These are really dangerous substances. And, you know, when you’re talking teens, teens a lot of times don’t understand the risks of taking a pill because they still think, you know, it’s some friend who got it out of their medicine cabinet and it’s not a fake pill. I would probably argue that most teens don’t even know what a fake pill is, you know, and they just think they’re taking an oxycodone or a Xanax bar that their friend took out of the medicine cabinet or maybe their friend has a script for and is actually just fentanyl pressed to look like something else. And this has deadly consequences. So this is from some reporting done by the DEA L.A. Field Division. It’s pretty good reporting. It’s a snapshot into what’s going on across the country. You can see that year over year they’re increasing their cases that are connected to social media accounts. And just looking at the Snapchat, they went from 22 cases in 2020 to 27 cases in 2021. And I can tell you it’s going up in 2022 and it’ll go up in 2023. There’s just more and more cases being connected to these two social media accounts, whether it’s through overdose investigations or just regular drug dealing investigations. Here’s some more. Twitter has been involved in one or two and Tik Tok is very quickly becoming one of the major ways people are advertising that they’re drug dealers. And then in a lot of those cases, the conversation is, like I said, will move to Snapchat or to add another encrypted service like WhatsApp. I know Sam touched on some of the emojis that were in his son’s phone and the menu that the drug dealer sold his son drugs had. And this is from the DEA one pill can kill and these are some of the emojis that drug dealers used to sell their drugs across the country. And it could be hard, right? Because if you see a bus or a train emoji on your kid’s phone, are you going to necessarily think of drugs? Or if you live, like I do, in the Northeast and you see a snowman or some snow, are you initially going to think of cocaine or are you going to think of, oh, my kid wants to go skiing, or my kid wants to go snowboarding, and that’s what they’re talking to their friends about. You know, and that’s the purpose of these emoji drugs, you know, why they use emojis. It’s to hide exactly what they’re doing. So when parents look at the phone or look at messaging, they don’t immediately understand what’s going on and know what to do about it. Some other issues, if you’re talking about teens and parents, the Adderall shortage. I think that’s a big deal because what we know is that when people can’t build their scripts, they may turn to the street. And what we are seeing is an influx of fake Adderall pills on the street. And a lot of those fake Adderall pills contain methamphetamine, which is another issue. And then I knew about the generic and the extended release shortage. But then I came across this this this week on Twitter, a pharmacist saying that he was unable to get Adderall, Concerta and focalin. I probably pronounced that wrong. But those are the major ADHD drugs. And if we’re having trouble getting that, that is really going to force people to the street and force them to, you know, buy pills that they think are real, that are just fake and containing illicit substances, whether it’s methamphetamine or fentanyl. We’re also seeing increased seizures across the country, especially in the northeast of methamphetamine, in powder form, which the only reason they’re doing that is so they can press them into pills. So it’s really the only reason why you need to be transporting methamphetamine in powder form is so that you compress it to look like an Adderall pill or some other pill. And then, you know, from my lines of the work I do, another concerning issue to me is the increase in youth stimulant use, especially cocaine amongst college kids. The reports I’m getting from prevention coalitions that work with the college campuses in the Northeast is really disturbing. It seems like the amount of cocaine being used by college age children is of almost epidemic proportions. Some messaging to parents: parents should talk to their kids about avoiding all drugs that come from an unknown source, particularly those purchased on social media. I think this is important to note – any illicit substance may contain a deadly amount of fentanyl. What we’re seeing when we look at law enforcement seizure data is, there is a percentage of every drug out there that contains fentanyl. So, if you’re buying cocaine, if you’re buying pills, basically any drug you’re buying except plant based marijuana, there’s a good probability that some portion of that supply has been contaminated with fentanyl. Bright colors can serve as an indicator that it’s a fake pill. You should emphasize safe storage, especially among yourself as a parent or other parents. All medications or pharmaceuticals are illicit, and should be secured. This includes even in states where marijuana is legal, you should be securing that stuff. We’ve, at least here in Connecticut, we’ve seen an increase of younger teenagers being admitted into the ERs for THC poisoning. And really, it’s from getting into their older siblings or their parents, legally obtained stash of THC. A lot of it’s from edibles. The importance of knowing the signs of an opiate overdose and always having naloxone readily accessible. As Sam hit on this and I can’t stress this enough, because of how volatile the drug environment is and how fentanyl is contaminated, almost every aspect of the illicit drug market. Everybody should know the signs of an opiate overdose and everybody should have naloxone within two or three steps of where they are at all times. This is really life saving advice, and it’s really one of the only ways we have to really combat this epidemic. And then just some resources for parents and communities. The drug free communities, coalitions, almost every state has a whole bunch of them. They’re really for prevention, your prevention coalitions in your states, they can help you with prevention things. They have, you know, based on their design, they have stakeholders from every kind of industry and agency in your community. Police, prevention, medical. They’re really a good resource, especially when you’re talking about prevention. The HIDA ORS Program, which I’m part of, we have a Drug Intelligence Officer like myself and a Public Health Analyst in every state. you can find your local ones on the HIDA ORS program website. In Connecticut, we have a Think You Know campaign that really stresses the dangers of counterfeit drugs. I mentioned the Social Media Victims Law Center a couple of times. They have some really good resources and their website’s pretty good. The DEA One Pill Can Kill. Just locally here in Connecticut, myself and my partner are working with the Connecticut State Police on a drug and social media training for parents and communities, which we hope to have finished by 2023 to roll out to the communities and parents here in Connecticut. That’s me.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you so much. That was a terrific presentation and really a lot of information and a lot that’s really pretty shocking for those of us who don’t know about it. One question is, what happens when kids connect with drug dealers on Snapchat? Do the kids have to actually look for a drug, or are kids actually being targeted proactively by drug dealers?
[Robert Lawlor]: So it’s a combination of both, at least from my experience and the ones I said. You will have kids who are targeted. Like I said, you know, Snapchat has that proximity thing. So you’ll, you know, we’ve seen drug dealers trying to reach kids by that. And a lot of times they’ll start with offering them, you know, marijuana or edibles or Xanax bars. You know, something they know teenagers like. And then they’ll also then offer them later on a whole menu of services. But also, a lot of times we see, you know, kids are curious, right? We know kids are curious and they may not even be looking to purchase drugs, but they may just be curious about drugs in general. And they search a hashtag or they search cocaine or, you know, they search pills. And then, they’ll not only be brought to stories or posts on one of the social media sites, but then the algorithm will know that they they search that and the algorithm will start inundating them with, you know, any kind of post or person who talks about that stuff or advertises it, and then they get connected there. And then, like I said, a lot of times we see that, you know, whether it’s Instagram or Tik Tok or one of those those bigger platforms, usually what they’ll do is they’ll connect there and then they’ll move to another platform, like Snapchat or WhatsApp, to actually conduct the sale and talk more in depth about it. Because a lot of people think Snapchat is super encrypted and that once the post goes away, it goes away. But, you know, like Sam said, if you get the DEA involved and you can subpoena their records, the DEA, a lot of times you can have success getting a lot of the stuff from Snapchat, but it’s still difficult.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you. Another question about what’s being sold through social media, had questions about alcohol, about firearms. Have you seen that?
[Robert Lawlor]: Not so much alcohol. We have seen some firearm stuff. But I will say the outward selling of firearms, it’s more covert. What you’ll see is you’ll see people just posting a picture with a handgun or firearms, you know, holding it. And then what happens is people will connect them. Hey, do you have any for sale? Can I go buy it? You know, we’ve seen on social media basically, like Sam said, menus of drugs and it’ll list the drugs and how much the drugs cost. Where on the firearm side, what we see more often is it’s a little more covert than that, a little more hidden. You know, people will show themselves with guns and then won’t actually advertise that they’re selling the guns, but then people will reach out to them and then they’ll conduct a sale from them.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you. Thank you so much for your presentation and for answering our questions. I’m next going to move to Tim Ken Mackey, who is a professor of global health in the Global Health Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is also the director of the Global Health Policy and Data Institute and serves as the editor in chief of the JMIR Infodemiology. He’s also the CEO and co-founder of the Data Science and Research Services Company S3 Research, and he’s going to talk with us about some of the algorithms and machine learning and social media increase posted by drug dealers. And what are the possibilities for us to be able to spot drug use online? And what are some of the policy approaches that have been tried to actually make a difference in these social platforms? So Tim, thank you.
[Dr. Tim Mackey] Thanks so much, Colleen. Let me just share my screen. Can you guys all see my screen okay? Yeah? Okay great, sounds good. Thanks to the previous speakers, especially to Mr. Chapman for sharing his story. A lot of what we do is possible because of families who are advocating on behalf of their children, who are victims, and without that, a lot of the discussion about technology, policy, and solutions wouldn’t be available or wouldn’t be discussed at the highest levels of government if it wasn’t for their advocates. I just want to really emphasize that. What I’ll be adding to the conversation is mostly discussion about what we see happening on the Internet today and what policy solutions are being discussed around addressing this issue. I want to start our discussion with 2018 congressional testimony from Mark Zuckerberg, where he was specifically asked by Representative David McKinley about what the platforms were doing to address the illicit sale of substances on their platforms. And his response was, respectfully, we have lots of content. We can’t look at everything. And what we need to do is build more A.I. tools that can practically find that content. So a lot of platforms are going to argue that there’s just too much content out there. A lot of people are generating their own content, we’re not there to police it, and we’re trying to use A.I. tools to proactively find this content. The problem with this statement, of course, is that one, the practical issue, we’ll get into in just a second. And from our standpoint, then it becomes a challenge of big data machine learning and really integrating prevention into technology. And then other groups, law enforcement, victim families, they serve that important role of pushing the policy envelope. And we focus kind of more on the research and the data component of it. During that time, of course, we’re seeing a huge increase in overdose. So a lot of it generated from synthetic opioids like fentanyl. And so this is a much more pressing issue, but unfortunately, it’s not a new issue. 20 years ago, I started my research in this space when I first met the victim, a victim’s family, a mother named Francis Hyde, whose son, Ryan Hyde, died in 2001 from buying Vicodin online. And from that, in her advocacy, they actually passed legislation called the Ryan Hyde Act that makes it explicitly illegal to sell controlled substances online. Unfortunately, 20 years later, children and youth are at much higher risk for digital exposure to substance use disorder and also to illicit drug sales. We have many more platforms, we have much more usage, and we have a much diverse landscape of the Internet. So, despite the fact that this is becoming a critical issue today, it’s not a new issue. It’s been going on for 20 years and we need to do much more to address the issue. Now I’m just going to get into some characteristics of what we see on different social media platforms. Emphasizing that this is a whole ecosystem and there are drug sellers pretty much all over the Internet in all different places. And the Internet interconnects these different sources in different ways. A lot of our pictures have the identities of the sellers blotted out. It’s not to protect them. It’s to make sure that people don’t contact these individuals. Also, we are using older pictures because we don’t want to impede on any potential ongoing investigations that may be using this data for any particular reason. But what we generally see are social media posts that include a number of different hashtags, and that’s a form of marketing. To basically to get the maximum exposure to users of their drug selling posts. And the three classes of drugs we traditionally look at are, of course, prescription controlled substances, which can include Xanax, Adderall, OxyContin, etc., and these are the products that often are laced with fentanyl. Illicit drugs, different types of illicit drugs. We see a lot of psychedelics, LSD, blotted patches, and also some drugs that are represented as illicit drugs, but may just be, you know, branded or privately branded by a particular drug seller. So they’re printed on a tab that might look like a popular, you know, media reference, something like that. They are custom made drugs. And we also see the legalization of cannabis also potentially impacting the space because there is a supply of illicit cannabis as well that could also carry its own health risks. And then we have things like purple lean, of course, cough syrup, and then drugs that are not labeled, that the drug seller just says is a drug and they don’t specify what type of drug it actually is. That’s another scary part because then we have no idea what these drugs actually constitute. A lot of times drug sellers are creating communities online, and in this context, you could have one drug seller posting information about selling Xanax bars and people talking about things that are completely unrelated, like football and pain, but also drug dealers coming in to these conversations and starting to sell drugs and these same conversation threads. So unfortunately, you may have, you know, an unintended exposure because people are talking about other topics, but drug dealers are looking for those discussions and then inserting their information to sell products to you. We see drug sales all over the place. Here is an example, an older example, of a YouTube video talking about a local news report about teens getting engaged in substance use disorder. And in this same video, we have drug sellers commenting to the YouTube video saying you can buy drugs from me, and linking to, for example, an online pharmacy that sells those drugs. So a lot of times, again, these illicit marketers are looking for conversation spaces to insert their business and their marketing opportunities, which of course are highly problematic. We see labeling of certain locations, for example, of drug sellers. We see use of different emojis, as we’ve already talked about, but also special characters to try to evade text detection. And we even see the use of QR codes and things like that to build menus of drugs, for example. So to take you off the platform and look at other products. And then of course charts, which we sometimes have visibility to and sometimes we do not. The other thing that we do see is the emergence of newer platforms. TikTok is not a new platform, but what we tend to see on Tik Tok when it comes to drugs is a lot of discussion about psychedelics. That’s kind of the kind of core area we see different from other platforms. For example, this term called “microdosing,” which is used for psychedelics, which is something that you should look at as a key word because that’s what we see being discussed a lot on platforms like Tik Tok. Discord and Telegram are other spaces where we see a lot of activity. Telegram is particularly a space that we’re concerned about as emerging drug markets. Those are two platforms, Telegram and Discord, that parents should know about and understand that there is a different level of risk because of the encryption associated with these platforms. And then of course, most of our drug dealers are actually on multiple platforms at any given time, including places that are even of higher risk, such as the Darkweb. So here’s an example of an Instagram post that points to an online pharmacy that points to a Darkweb discussion about drugs and then points to another online pharmacy as well. A lot of times these different sources of drugs are interconnected in some way, and they lead to even more dangerous paths of procuring drugs from places like the Darkweb where there’s a lot of illegal activity going on. The Darkweb for parents is actually not that hard to access. It’s not technically hard to get on the Darkweb. You should know that even a child could easily get on the Darkweb if they had the right instructions and the right tor client to do so. As far as research, technology and policy, I’ll just go over that really quickly. One, there’s plenty of research out there now, not just by myself, but by other groups. Everybody knows that there are technical solutions to address this issue, and there’s plenty of research that’s already been done to address this challenge. What we do is large data surveillance on different platforms. Because of the large volume of data that we’re collecting, we have to use machine learning and natural language processing to identify content that’s specific to illicit sales. And then we use forensic web analysis to identify characteristics of risk. And then we build visualization tools for different stakeholders to act upon that data. And of course, because of all the advocacy around this, there’s a lot of media around this, there’s a lot of awareness around this. There’s a lot of public health campaigns that we never had before during the Ryan Hyde period, you know, 20 years ago. So there is really good momentum for this. We are at a critical place where we have a policy window to actually make a change. And so there are advocates on the hill using research to essentially say there is a problem, Twitter, why can’t you do something? For example, this is the Twitter hearing. There are a number of pieces of legislation that are being under consideration right now in addition to what we have on the books already, which is the Ryan Hyde Act, that makes it explicitly illegal to sell drugs online. This legislation includes things like making sure that there’s transparency to data, and transparency could potentially lead to more accountability for the platforms if they’re forced to talk about, you know, the data that they are seeing, what they’re doing about it, and sharing it with others for future research and for greater accountability as well. There is discussion, as Sam mentioned already, on limiting liability protections under CD2 30, particularly if they violate certain terms or if they don’t do their due diligence and making sure this content is removed. And then of course, there’s broader discussions about just repealing section CD2 30 because these companies now are very profitable and perhaps they don’t need that liability protection like they used to when they first started, which was some of the congressional intent of why CD2 30 was created. There’s also requirements to establish real policies, real policies that have strength and teeth to them and look at what the actual enforcement looks like. Also better enable these platforms to cooperate with law enforcement or force them to do so. And then expanding the actual criminality component of this so that prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies can really go after the criminals that are perpetuating this crime. Those are some of the flavors and things that you’ll see in legislation. You know Congress, so you never know if anything’s going to be passed. But again, if it wasn’t for the victims’ families advocacy around this, we would have virtually no legislation around this. So this is where this opportunity is coming from. Last two things I’ll mention. There is a report that will come out of the state of Colorado, which is part of legislation that required them to produce a report for this. That will come out in March and there’ll be a lot of discussion about solutions in that report. And just this morning, there was congressional testimony in the Foreign Relations Committee, including the DEA administrator, Anne Milgram, who was specifically talking about social media and how it impacts availability of fentanyl. Lots of parts of the government are talking about this issue. This would be an interesting hearing to look at if you’re interested. But there is a lot of action around this space. So again, lastly, just want to thank all the speakers today, especially Sam and especially Robert, for all their work in this space. And, you know, happy to join the conversation later on with my limited perspective on what’s going on.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you so much. That was a lot of really great information. A couple of questions for Tim. So are there any federal or state laws that prohibit advertising drugs to teens on YouTube or Tik Tok or Instagram or any of these individual companies?
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: Yeah. There’s basically two parts of most social media platforms. There’s sponsored content or ad based content, and then there’s organic content that is just generally created by users. Most sponsored content is more policed by the platforms than organic content, and most of the platforms have explicit guidelines to, you know, review that content because they’re directly making money from it. There was a settlement against Google about ten years ago of $500 million for them facilitating illicit sales of drugs through ads. So most of the tech industry understands that that’s a very dangerous space to not police. And then when it comes to user generated content, they have their own community guidelines and almost all platforms say that you’re not supposed to sell drugs online. The problem is implementing that, carrying it out evenly and putting the resources behind it. I’m a big believer that you have to back up your actions with funding and if platforms don’t dedicate more money to either third party groups enabling parents to monitor it through child parent monitoring software or something, there’s really not much being done.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. We have a number of questions about the Darkweb because that’s sort of a phrase that kind of scares parents. Can you tell us what it is, how you access it, and a little bit of knowledge about what we might be seeing our teens doing?
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: Yeah, the Darkweb is essentially a part of the web that is not indexed, meaning it’s not searchable by search engines. Because of the way the dark web is set up, which is essentially, it’s rerouting web addresses over and over, it’s really hard to pinpoint where these different sources of selling are. The Darkweb mostly sells products. So you have these marketplaces that sell all types of illicit products. You could buy a hitman. You could buy, you know, identity fraud and you can buy all types of things, drugs being one of that large component. But essentially all you need is a Tor client and a computer to basically log on to the Darkweb. And if you have an address of a Darkweb marketplace, you can find drugs there. It’s very easy to find. There’s an escrow component, there’s reviews. It’s very similar to what you would see in an e-commerce marketplace. It’s just illegal. Parents should be aware, especially if you hear that word tor client or anyone talking about the Darkweb, that’s a warning sign that kids might be experimenting with it. And I think a lot of kids are actually interested in the Darkweb for other reasons, because it’s in the media about all these other things. But we also think that places like Telegram and Discord are also emerging as dangerous areas that parents aren’t necessarily aware of.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. Well, thank you so much. And I’m going to ask our other two speakers to come back. We have questions for the whole group. And I will have anybody answer these questions. I mean, whatever your perspective is, just because you have very different perspectives on these. So one question is, why is it that fentanyl is the drug that’s found in all these other controlled substances or fake pills?
[Robert Lawlor]: A lot of it has to do with how much money they’re making on it and you know, how little you actually need to have a deadly dose of it. Why we see it kind of in other drugs, some of it is intentional, right? Early on in the opioid epidemic, they were purposely mixing it with heroin and then they slowly switched from having heroin mixed with fentanyl to mostly just fentanyl. And then a lot of it, like especially like in the cocaine side of it, things, it’s just sloppiness and a lot of it we can contribute to drug trafficking organizations not having really great hygiene in between them bagging up opioids, fentanyl and then moving on to bagging up cocaine or crack. And then using the same kind of instruments and the same tools to bag and the same services. I think what we see is a lot of unintentional cross-contamination between the various drugs. Also, there’s smuggling a lot of the different drugs together so that helps with the contamination. But mostly fentanyl is super cheap for the cartels to produce and they’re making tons of money off of it.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. Anybody else want to contribute to that answer?
[Samuel Chapman]: The dose. The dose that an addict requires to feel anything is much higher than a kid experimenting with drugs can tolerate. So what they want to deliver to a drug addict on the street would kill one of our children. And that’s the problem, is that it’s so potent that if you make a mistake and double the dose, you could die. So, by doing unexact things like putting it in marijuana, putting it in cocaine, one person does one line, the other person does four, and the one who does four dies from it. It’s as lethal as anything we’ve ever seen. It’s the leading cause of death, not just among young people, but adults. 18 to 45. 300 people a day are dying from fentanyl poisoning. It’s like a jumbo jet dropping from the sky every single day.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Wow.
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: And I would just add that one of the other issues we’re dealing with is the importation of fentanyl precursors from other countries that come into Mexico.If you look at the congressional testimony this morning, I was also listening to it, a lot of discussion is around supply chains and how fentanyl precursor, large volumes of fentanyl precursor, are coming from countries like China, being shipped into Mexico, then being turned into finished product, and then being coming to the United States. So that’s another large problem. That’s the source of all of this product. And there is a lot of history behind that I won’t go into about scheduling, about what products might be available from certain manufacturers. That is driving a lot of the Fentanyl supply that is killing Americans.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Now, I can just add from my own practical experience that we are seeing record numbers of kids coming in with edibles and ingestion of THC. And for the teenagers who are getting this from their friends, I’m doing tox screens on everybody and giving them Narcan. Just proactively doing that because we’re seeing so much contamination of anything that’s coming in with fentanyl that we really have changed the way that we practice, even in our clinics when looking at these kids.
[Samuel Chapman]: That’s right. And Narcan is nontoxic, so there’s no harm in administering it if someone passes out and you don’t know why.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: And that’s absolutely true. That’s why we keep it. That’s why we do it. Because if you give it and you don’t know what that child has, there’s no effect of it. I mean, but if they have taken something with fentanyl in it or any kind of opioid, and you can help to save their life, it’s really, really crucial that you do that.
[Samuel Chapman]: And Colleen, if you’re being prescribed opioids, ask your doctor for Narcan as well. Because, if it’s in your cabinet, your kids can find it,they could O.D. and it would be life saving. I know my wife just had an operation. She was given opioids for pain and they gave her Narcan to take home. I thought that was such a good idea.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: I think that’s a fabulous idea, especially those of us who treat kids and adolescents. So thank you for that tip. That’s something that I will take with me here. Not that I prescribe opiates much because I really don’t. But really important to tell my families or my kids who are going in for surgery that that’s probably something that they should do. So we have another question and I’ll have all of you put your perspective into this. Is it wise to ask my 15 year old son to see his phone computer, social media, to look at his conversations? I’m trying to teach him responsibility and I will definitely be asking if he’s ever been approached. But is it ethical to go further, to actually ask to see his devices and accounts?
[Samuel Chapman]: Could be a life saving move.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: I agree.
[Samuel Chapman]: And mom decides what’s ethical, so it’s up to her. If she wants to be safe, she’ll do that.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: You know, and that’s one of those boundaries that we actually are talking about now in our anticipatory guidance of teenagers. You know, it used to be that they could get in trouble on social media, but now they could die on it. And so, more and more of my parents, I’m telling you about Bark, I’m telling to get that on there. When I’m talking with parents and kids together, I’m saying this is for your safety. This is something that is just like keeping you from driving before you get your learner’s permit or your driver’s license. It’s right in that same category. And we just have to change our outlook and our anticipatory guidance when we talk about social media with kids. Any comments from Tim or Robert?
[Robert Lawlor]: Yeah, I mean, not a prevention expert, but I would think it’s a good thing. But I kind of think it’s something that you need to have established, right? I think if you’re on this call today and you have a 15 year old and you just walk in the house later this afternoon and go “give me your phone and your password,” and start looking through it, you may cause some kind of rifts in your household. But I do think it’s important for parents and I think children want parents to discuss these topics with them in a frank and non-alarmist way and just give them the facts. I also think, like yourself and Sam said, children really shouldn’t have no privacy, but I do think as something you should have established long before today and if you haven’t done those things, maybe you need to start from a different place rather than just walking in and grabbing all their social media stuff and looking through it and maybe just start having these conversations if you haven’t had them. Start talking about the dangers of drugs and slowly work into looking at their social media. However, saying that, I do understand there is an immediacy where you want to make sure that they’re not experimenting with drugs and because they could be deadly, you know? So, I think it’s a difficult question if you haven’t already established some of those different things already. But I do think it’s needed.
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: And I’ll just add, I think it depends on your stage of life. I mean, my kids are eight and 11 now, and so they’re really young. I’m a social media researcher, but I try to stay off social media as much as possible. And when my son, who’s interested in Pokemon cards, talks about all these discord, you know, channels that are talking about Pokemon cards and how they open them, I’m like, you’re not going on there because I know of the other activity that’s going on. I know that children can be exposed to other content inadvertently because they’re searching for certain keywords, things like that. So for me, you know, at my life cycle, I’m really about, you know, preventing my kids to go on at all. And to the extent that they need that socialization, you know, I’m hoping that we can manage it in the future. Especially with some of these platforms that are really concerning to us that we see, we definitely try to avoid those platforms being used at all.
[Samuel Chapman]: By the way, Bark makes a new safe phone for parents to buy for their kids. Be sure to look into that.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Wow, okay. Now Tim, I would tell you exactly what you’re doing is developmentally appropriate for kids. I mean, we actually even have conversations about how old you should be before you even have a phone of your own. And our recommendation is not until eighth grade, but a lot of kids have it well before that. So it’s important. So, Tim, one question that came up from your talk, what is a tor client?
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: Tor client is essentially an application that allows you to access the Darkweb by routing you to basically tor servers. So you have to install it on your computer. That’s the only way you can actually access the Darkweb, unlike the clear web, which is what we call most content on the Internet, you just go to a browser and Google or any other search engine will index those sites because it’s crawling that information and then providing links to those sites. But with the Darkweb, you need this Tor client to actually access the dark web and the marketplaces that exist there.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. Two questions related to signs of opioid overdose. What are the signs of an opioid overdose and how do you use Narcan?
[Samuel Chapman]: So what happens with fentanyl is that their respiration slows until they eventually pass out and in many cases vomit and death can come from a lack of oxygen or from aspirating what’s in their stomach. Narcan gets administered by removing the cap and inserting it in the nostril and squeezing the way you would in a nasal spray or an Afrin or something like that. It is in fact a nasal spray, one in each nostril. And then importantly, stay ready because another dose may be needed before the ambulance shows up. It can look like they come out of it and then they drift back into the opioid poisoning. Even having two doses of Narcan on hand is my recommendation.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: I would absolutely agree with you. The biggest sign is lethargy. What happens is their pupils become pinpoint. They start breathing much more slowly and then stop breathing. As Sam mentioned, sometimes they’ll vomit with this. And Narcan is a nasal spray. It’s something very easy to give you just squirt in there like you would saline or anything else like that. And again, you may find that your child would revive and come to and then start drifting off again. That is a sign that they’ve got a lot of opioid in their system and you need to do another dose of Narcan. So now the question, it’s frustrating that drug prevention messaging has been difficult to place on social media sites like YouTube because they violate the drug policies. So you can’t do drug prevention because you say overdose or marijuana but the opposite is happening to sell drugs. So any recommendations about how to work with social media sites on placing drug prevention messaging?
[Samuel Chapman]: Well, I would say keep at it. I mean, to me, if a drug dealer can put those words up and make contact with our kids, you can put those words up long enough for people to read it and to just keep going. I don’t believe, based on my personal experience, that they are scrubbing their networks.
[Robert Lawlor]: I was just going to add, you know, I don’t know exactly what platform they’re having problems with putting drug prevention in, but I know the You Think You Know campaign, which we referenced earlier, they do put a lot of drug prevention messaging on Instagram. I know that gets through. But like Sam said, a lot of it may just be because they’re not even scrubbing the network and flagging some of these things and taking it down. But I know a lot of, at least in the Northeast, there are a lot of drug prevention and harm reduction coalitions using social media to promote prevention and remote and promote harm reduction efforts that are getting out there on social media. So I would say keep trying. If you’re having difficulties posting that stuff, I would say keep trying, like Sam said.
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: I would just add that I think it’s a responsibility for the platforms themselves to engage in that activity because, you know, obviously there’s content out there that is highly dangerous. I’m not saying it’s the solution on its own, not at all. But platforms should also dedicate their own resources towards health prevention and promotion, using their own ads and using their own publicity campaigns. To the extent it doesn’t create a conflict of interest or anything like that that has to be monitored. They should give groups that are advocating on these issues resources to do so on their platforms.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. So the mention of gaming platforms is really frightening to a number of our participants. And they’re asking, are there any particular gaming platforms to look out for? And one specific question referenced Minecraft, because it’s one that a lot of younger kids tend to do.
[Robert Lawlor]: From my experience, I think the two I hear the most are Call of Duty and Minecraft. But really any gaming platform where you can allow people from anywhere in the world to play with you on the platform is a platform that could potentially, you know, groom you for anything, whether it’s buying drugs or human trafficking or anything, really. It’s the you know, it’s that you’re adding in strangers. You don’t know who they are and they could be hiding behind a false persona. You think it’s a 13 year old boy and it’s really a 49 year old man. All the gaming platforms nowadays, as I from my understanding, the majority of them anyways, have that ability where you can play with people around the world and a lot of times you could do it randomly, like people could just join your game that you’re playing, whether it’s a sports game like NBA 2K, Call of Duty, or Minecraft. You can play with people around the world openly.
[Samuel Chapman]: Discord is one to watch out for because it doesn’t allow Bark on there. It attracts some nefarious actors. I think it’s really important to teach your kids as you bring them online, to block and report any content that’s drug related or sexually oriented, and set that ethic up. So that if someone does reach out to them and want to either meet them or provide drug or sex related content, they block and report. Make sure that your kid knows that if they’re not doing that with the content that they might accidentally receive, that you’re going to take the device away.
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: And from my standpoint, this is actually a really, unfortunately, a very fascinating area of research is this convergence of addiction when it comes to gaming, substance use and other types of addiction as well. So what we tend to see, there’s not a lot of research on it, are platforms like Twitch where people game for a very long time. They may do streaming videos of them gaming for like hours or multiple hours, and that can include Minecraft, but it’s mostly in kind of competitive sports and competitive e-sports, for example, and a lot of shooting games as well. First-person shooting games. There can be people talking about the use of things like stimulants, like Adderall, for performance issues. And there also can be discussions lot more about vaping. Even though that’s not really the topic of conversation today, there is cannabis vaping. There are other forms of vaping that obviously nicotine is very addictive and that can potentially lead to other substance use disorder transitions. We do see people promoting vaping or promoting even the use of Adderall to enhance performance in gaming because it’s relatively competitive. So that’s an area to kind of consider. Twitch is one of the places, it’s understudied, but it’s a place a lot of people go for gaming content as well as, you know, doing very long gaming, which often does require a stimulant and may lead to, again, other substance use disorder.
[Samuel Chapman]: And Adderall lately has become dangerous to get offline because there is fentanyl being put into Adderall, and methamphetamine. Oh, it is methamphetamine. I mean, molly is being put into Adderall. Vaping has become dangerous if you don’t get it from a dispensary. They’re putting fentanyl in the vapes as well.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Now we’ve actually seen kids who have been fentanyl poisoned by vaping. I’m glad you mentioned that there. This topic is really overwhelming and scary. How do we start to have those conversations with our kids about the dangers why we need to monitor their social media? How do you start the topic without feeling like you’re fear mongering or that you’re overly scary?
[Samuel Chapman]: I think you just have to bite down and do it. I wish I could have another conversation with Sammy about this and having him be mad at me or arguing with me about me being too restrictive would be a pleasure right now. Dive so that you don’t become me, is what I would say. You know, it’s not so much about diplomacy as it is about parental action and oversight and setting a new tone. You know, the world is setting the tone that social media is critical to survival and happiness. And it turns out it’s also killing us. And two thirds of young girls are reporting feelings of hopelessness in a recent study. The suicide rates are going up. This is a bloody mess. And if you don’t weigh in, you could be a victim yourself.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: I think that people will hear Sammy’s story and think, “I can’t imagine something like that ever happening.” But the truth is that you can imagine it and it’s a threat. It’s a present clear and dangerous threat right now. And so, you know, what we’ve been doing in terms of really letting our kids developmentally be autonomous, we’ve got to kind of track back with that because it’s really a dangerous area here. A question on how do AI technologies and how can they be used to find that drug messaging on, Twitter and other social media platforms?
[Dr. Tim Mackey]: I can answer that question. Drug dealers on social media platforms are marketing products. There’s very specific features that we look for, including providing contact information, including the name or of a drug. But we’re also constantly creating new keywords, code words, hashtags, that are being used by different communities of online users to talk about substance use. That could be not talking about actual selling, but it could just be in a general context because that’s also what drug dealers are using to expose this content to anyone. There are very specific features we look for. The platforms obviously can do this as well. We do a lot of machine learning for a lot of different federal agencies on different topics like health equity. It’s actually not that hard to find a drug dealer using machine learning compared to other content. It’s a lot harder, for example, to find misinformation on the pandemic, which we’ve done a lot of research on. Because there’s so many diversity of opinions. So from a technical perspective, I would say it’s not as difficult as you think. It’s marketing and illegal marketing is relatively easy to pick up because of the features that they’re using. Of course, there’s lots of different ways that they try to get around these things, but a lot of it’s very covert and that’s the troubling aspect of it.
[Robert Lawlor]: Well, that’s a good question.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Or even city versus suburb. Do we have any data on who is doing what, where?
[Robert Lawlor]: I think, you know, when we’re talking like adolescents age, I think the drugs are all kind of similar that they’re experimenting with and trying. You know, I think, in cities there are a lot of, especially in the northeast, the number one concern is fentanyl, because people are dying from fentanyl immediately. When we look at seizure data, what’s the number one being seized in the northeast, it’s really cocaine. We have a massive cocaine and crack problem here in the Northeast, but people aren’t dying acutely from cocaine and crack. It’s a chronic usage that over years of decades finally catches up with them. With fentanyl, they’re dying immediately sometimes. In youth we really see alcohol, THC and pills are really the predominant things we see. We haven’t noticed any difference between suburban, urban, black, white, Hispanic. Usually youths are kind of using the same substances. Maybe if you have more money, you could get a little better substances and you don’t have to go into the cities to buy it so that may be some differences, but in terms of just substances they are kind of similar when we’re talking about adolescents.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Okay. And I’m going to put my final question towards Samuel, but others can answer as well, too. How do you get Bark and install it? What do you have to do in terms of getting passwords from your kids? What are some of the logistics of using Bark and why is it one that you’d recommend?
[Samuel Chapman]: Bark.us is the site to go get it. It does have a small monthly fee, but it is life saving technology. It will go across different platforms. So your kids can switch from one to the other to try and fool you. It will go across all of their devices once you’ve installed the software and it’s as easy as downloading an app once you’ve signed up. The reason I’m speaking only about Bark is because those other platforms that I mentioned with kids on it don’t allow for Bark. Facebook does, Twitter does, but Tik Tok doesn’t and Instagram messaging doesn’t and Snapchat doesn’t. So there’s not really as big a market as there should be for other companies. So as soon as we make this a requirement, there will be other choices in addition to Bark. But right now, it’s a really great solution. If your kid is listening to Suicide Girls, it will let you know that suicide was brought up on your kid’s device and it was the musicSsuicide Girls. if it’s fentanyl, it’ll tell you that it’s fentanyl and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a dangerous post and one that innocently has a word that could be misconstrued. And they keep up on all of the drug emojis, which is very difficult for parents to do or to understand. Bark will also call the police and has saved many lives when they have found someone was in imminent danger. So that’s sort of an interesting side note.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Wow, that’s great. And I can see where Sammy’s Law is really moving towards all social media platforms need to be able to have this kind of protection so that we know what’s going on with our kids.
[Samuel Chapman]: Yeah That’s right. It’s really important that they give the power back to the parents and let parents protect their children.
[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Well, thank you so much, Samuel, Tim, Robert. You guys were a great panel. Lots of terrific information and thank you for sharing your expertise and experience and advice. I also want to thank all of the audience here for joining us today. When you leave, you will be prompted to complete a brief survey for Children and Screens because we really want your feedback on the webinars and suggestions for future events. To learn more about this and other topics related to child development and digital media, check out Children and Screens website, at childrenandscreens.com. You can see all of our different social media hashtags and where you can find us on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and on YouTube. And you can subscribe to our YouTube channel so you can watch more than 50 previous webinars on all kinds of different children and digital media topics. Please tune in for our next Ask the Experts webinar on Wednesday, March 1st, which is Captive Market: Protecting Children in the New World of Online Advertising. So, maybe legal things, but things that really captivate our kids. Again, I want to thank the panel. I want to thank our audience. Thanks to everybody involved in this. And you’ve really helped us learn a whole lot about what we can do to protect kids. Thank you.