BuzzFeed News reports that recently, Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, discussed the firm’s ability to help people addicted to opioids with the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, stating: “We have seen social media be a tremendous place of support for those thinking of harming themselves or struggling with opioid addiction. We’re exploring and developing ways of linking people up with resources. We’re doing that for opiate addiction, for thoughts of self-harm, people asking or searching for hateful content. We do think this can be a positive thing for overall wellness.”
But as Bickert discussed Facebook and Instagram’s ability to do good, the platforms were at that moment being used to further spread opioids and other drugs across America. Buzzfeed News reports that hashtags on Instagram and Facebook related to opioids are now being used as advertising spaces for drug dealers.
Dozens of top posts under the #opioidcrisis and #opioidaddiction hashtags contained comments touting Oxycontin, Percocet, Codeine, and other prescription opioids — along with phone numbers and usernames for encrypted messaging accounts. A typical entry, under a video describing tens of thousands of deaths by drug overdose, offered “fast deals” on “Oxys, Roxy, Xans, Addy, codeine, perc…Available 24.7 for delivery.”
“We do not allow the sale of illegal drugs on Instagram,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in a comment to BuzzFeed News. “It is against our policies to buy, sell or trade non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs on our platform — including in comments. Inappropriate comments can and should be reported, and will be reviewed like posts or stories.”
Social media’s role in boosting the American opioid crisis, and the way dealers have used Instagram to connect with buyers, have long been known. Last year, the Washington Post described the service as “a sizable open marketplace for advertising illegal drugs.” Instagram responded by cracking down on the drug-specific hashtags where many of these offers once lived.
BuzzFeed News reports that Eileen Carey, a former tech industry executive and activist who has recorded the drug sales on social media platforms for years approached Bickert after the hearing and showed her the comments on Facebook’s platforms advertising drugs. Carey said: “She thanked me for flagging,” but these drug dealing accounts and hashtags are still active on Facebook’s platforms.