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A Word About Snapchat
(Amy’s statement to the the us house energy and commerce committee)
Prior to his end, Alex skated, scouted, and experimented. Alex was curious about everything and would master subjects. At points in his life, he was an Egyptologist, a Civil War historian, a Pokemon encyclopedia, and so many more roles. By the time we learned he had been using cannabis, he had mastered Snapchat.
Through this app, Alex was able overcome the natural limits that keep most children from trying the hardest drugs. The natural limits that exist for his generation and others include a supportive family, a good school, a strong community, and all the other safeguards that we knew to provide. Follow the plan and it will all work out.
Social media transcends these natural limits though. With Snapchat, Alex’s normal circle of friends expanded further and began intersecting with abnormal circles. It was on Snapchat that Alex was able to visit with dealers and other users. It was on Snapchat that he set up a deal to get pills. It was on Snapchat that he made plans to have the dealer drive up to our house so that Alex could sneak out for a couple minutes one night and get anything he wanted.
On Snapchat, messages are truly ephemeral and are deleted as soon as they are viewed. Taboo speech, backstabbing, narcissism, etc can all be conveyed through the app with little concern for consequences because the history vanishes after it’s read.
Drug dealers, child abusers, and other criminal users appreciate these privacy features too. For them, Snapchat is a portal to other markets that were previously inaccessible and they readily take advantage.
Snap and other social media companies are free of liability for this behavior on their platform because our laws were written to protect them. The only part Snap has ever been accountable for is to answer law enforcement subpoenas. Yet, according to our interviews with police, sheriffs, and federal agents, many times Snap is very slow to respond to court orders if they respond at all.
After meeting with parents of dead users, Snap posted public safety announcements on their platform with minimal efficacy. More importantly, through a network of lobbyists, lawyers, and a $100 billion portfolio, Snap has assembled a well-oiled lobbying machine to avoid any public policy changes that might assign some responsibility for the deaths that their platform facilitates.
To paraphrase Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen: for companies like Snap, lobbying and litigation are simply the cost of doing business.
As of today, this is the current map of known deaths where a drug dealer using Snapchat has killed a customer with a fake pill. This includes all counterfeit pills with the majority being fentanyl. Again, this is for deaths attributed to pills and Snapchat. It does not include the millions who survive and the tens of thousands more who will die before the year is out.
I ask you, if an airplane company killed this many people in just a few years, would their planes be flying today? Or would we have grounded them until we were sure they were safe? If a car company’s vehicles killed drivers and passengers in this many states, would there not be a call for legal and financial accountability? An investigation that resulted in changed business practices? We wouldn’t ban planes or cars forever, but we’d make sure before we put people back in them that they were fixed.
We are at an inflection point with Snapchat. Something has to be done.
Congress can force them to accept responsibility and do better. I have some ideas about that, and I hope at some point we get to explore them.