This Friday marked the fourth time that Amy Neville has marched to Snapchat’s Santa Monica headquarters since her 14-year-old son, Alexander, died in 2020 after taking a counterfeit pill containing fentanyl he purchased via the social media app.

Other parents who walked alongside Neville this week as part of the ‘Gone in a Snap’ demonstration share similar stories and a common goal: to hold Snap Inc. accountable for what they view as complicity in their children’s deaths and to advocate for more safety measures and controls on the platform.

Glen Draper, an attorney for the Social Media Victims Law Center representing over 80 families who lost children to pills containing fentanyl purchased on Snapchat in claims against the company, said that the platform’s unique features make it especially attractive to drug dealers.

“The feature that everybody’s most familiar with, of course, is the disappearing messages, but there are other features besides that, that drug dealers use on Snapchat to contact kids and offer them drugs,” he said, “They have a connection feature that lets dealers contact kids that they don’t know…they have a feature called Snap Map that allows drug dealers to locate kids to confirm their identity, that they’re not police, and offer drug menus to people who are in a specific area.”

Local Santa Monica parents Sam Chapman and Laura Berman lost their 16-year-old son, Sammy, in 2020 to a fentanyl-laced pill he thought was Xanax which he obtained through Snapchat and had delivered to their house “like a pizza” while they were asleep.

“If fentanyl is the bullet, Snapchat is the gun that is delivering the bullet to our children,” Chapman said.

Snap Inc. declined to answer specific questions from the Daily Press, but in a statement a spokesperson for the company said: “At Snap, we are working hard to stop dealers from abusing our platform. We do this by employing certain technologies, working closely with law enforcement, collaborating with other technology companies, and by having a zero-tolerance policy where we shut off the infringer’s account.”

Chapman, Berman, Neville and other parents say that it is not enough.

“They’re little tiny bandaids for something that needs major surgery,” Neville said. “So while kids continue to die we will continue to be a voice for that.”

She and other parents would like to see major changes to the app and support proposed legislation to enact stricter regulations for social media companies like Snapchat and allow more parental controls, including the Kids Online Safety Act and Sammy’s Law, named after Chapman and Berman’s son.

Beyond serving as a way for dealers to traffic fentanyl, parents at this week’s protest said Snapchat results in harm to young people in other ways as well.

Rose Bronstein, who came from Chicago to join the demonstration, said her 15-year old son, Nate, died by suicide after being bullied over Snapchat in January of 2022. She said the lack of regulation on social media platforms like the app and the demonstrated harm to children reveal a clear double standard when compared to safety requirements for other industries.

“When one child is injured by a different type of a product like an infant car seat, or a baby crib, the product is recalled immediately or the company that manufactures it is held accountable,” she said. “They have to go through the highest standardization of making sure their products are safe for our children. Why should the same thing not apply to social media platforms?”

Both Neville and Bronstein think it comes down to one thing: money. Many of the features they feel make the platform dangerous, such as the disappearing messages and location sharing, are also what make it popular and profitable.

“They have got to start putting people ahead of their profits,” Neville said. “I get it, they’re there to make money, but as long as people continue to die, how is it worth it?”

She said that the rapidly evolving nature of social media makes it hard for parents to stay on top of and patrol and that it should be the responsibility of companies like Snapchat and the government to ensure they are not putting young people in harm’s way.

Bronstein added that the integration of technology into society and daily life means simply taking phones away from kids is not a realistic solution.

“Social media platforms are here, phones are here, so now it’s like, how do we move forward, making sure that everybody is safe on it” she said. “We need to empower parents with the knowledge and the tools to protect our children, but really most importantly, it’s time to put the accountability on the CEOs of these platforms.”

Trying to prevent what happened to her kid from happening to anyone else is what Bronstein said compels her and other parents to make their voices heard and participate in demonstrations like this one.

“The only way that I know how to cope with this – because it really has derailed my soul and my family’s soul and the way we exist now – is that I have to be able to get up every morning and find a way to be able to get through the day and the only way that I know how is to do this work,” she said.

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...