In an outpouring of anguish, a group of families who lost children to drugs sold over social media are gathering outside of Snapchat’s headquarters to demand the company take action.
Among them stands local parents Laura Berman and Sam Chapman, whose 16-year-old son Sammy unknowingly ingested a fatal amount of the synthetic opioid fentanyl on February 7.
Sammy was contacted by a drug dealer over Snapchat. The dealer claimed he was selling Xanax and delivered the poisonous pill directly to Sammy’s house while his parents were sleeping.
“The organizers are all parents of children who were poisoned with Fentanyl where the mode of contact was Snapchat,” said Chapman, who is helping coordinate the protest. “We say poison carefully because people confuse it with an overdose, which is not. This is someone pretending to sell one thing and selling something else.”
Sammy’s story is not a freak accident, but part of a tragic pattern unfolding nationwide. According to the CDC, synthetic opioids killed more than 36,000 US residents in 2019 and this rate is almost 12 times higher than it was in 2013. An increasing number of these deaths are unsuspecting youths who are targeted by drug dealers over social media.
Friday’s protest is one of 30 simultaneously occurring rallies organized by The Association of People Against Lethal Drugs in an effort to raise awareness of the synthetic drug epidemic.
The Santa Monica protest in particular is calling on Snapchat to allow third-party safety monitoring software to give parents a window into the potential dangers facing their children.
“These people (social media executives) are making a fortune off of our children and drug dealers, solicitors of child prostitution and all types of abusers are finding our kids on Snapchat and Discord,” said Chapman.
Chapman and Berman have launched a petition to demand all social media companies allow parental safety software on their platforms and are working with U.S Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz on legislative efforts to codify this as a national law.
One such company is Bark, which sends alerts to parents when it flags potentially dangerous content such as suicidal thoughts, drug use, cyberbullying, or sexual exchanges. Although Bark is permitted on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, other highly popular youth apps including Snapchat, TikTok and Discord do not allow it.
Protesters are also calling on Snapchat and other platforms to be more cooperative providing user information to the police in the investigation.
“If you speak to the Santa Monica Police you will find that they have stopped asking big tech for help with cases because they don’t reply,” said Berman, who experienced this personally when trying to find information on the dealer who sold fentanyl to his son.
Protesters fear they are battling against time as the amount of synthetic opioids trafficked across the border increases alongside the influence and popularity of social media on America’s youth.
Friday’s gathering will be at Clover Park (2600 Ocean Park Blvd), then moving to protest outside Snap, Inc. (2772 Donald Douglas Loop N) at 11:30 a.m.