DANGERS OF ONLINE DRUG ADS-Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of the social networking giant, Facebook, appeared in front of Congress on April 11, 2018.
He faced questions about the sale of illegal opioids on both Facebook and Instagram. Republican Rep. David McKinney from West Virginia was especially vocal when questioning Zuckerberg about why Facebook has not been more proactive about taking down posts from opioid dealers.
McKinney told Zuckerberg, “Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription…. Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity…”
Drugs on the Internet
The problem of illegal drug sales through the Internet is not a new one. In 2011, the search engine giant, Google, paid $500 million to the United States Department of Justice for allowing prescription drug ads from Canadian online pharmacies to reach Internet users in the United States. The ads were stopped in 2009 when Google executives became aware of the U.S. Attorney’s investigation into the matter.
Opioid sellers still find creative ways to post about drug sales on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Critics like McKinney have accused the social media sites of only reacting to the posts by taking them down, not being proactive in finding ways to stop the illegal sales, to begin with. Critics believe that opioid addictions are encouraged by these posts. Removing questionable content from social media platforms has been relatively hit or miss in the past. Facebook executives have been asked to no longer allow mentions of Oxycontin and other drug-related terms from Facebook or Instagram, a photo sharing social media platform owned by Facebook.
Zuckerberg answered the accusations by stating that his company needs to create more artificial intelligence to police the social media platforms. Right now, the company has security and content reviewers who remove questionable posts when they are flagged by users. Zuckerberg continued by saying there will be 20,000 workers in those positions by the end of 2018. However, he admits that even that number of people cannot police every posting on Facebook and Instagram. He went on to state, “…we need…more A.I. tools that can proactively find that content.” They have A.I. capability to remove almost one hundred percent of ISIS content before it is even available to be viewed, but the technology is lacking when it comes to identifying illegal drug sale posts. Zuckerberg could not comment on a timeline for these tools to be available to help remove drug-related posts.
Posts that Rep. McKinley himself flagged have since been removed. He still believes however that the “internal controls” of these sites are lacking and these posts should have been removed long ago. McKinley states that he has been waiting months to talk to Facebook about the issue.
FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has been outspoken about opioid sales on platforms like Facebook and Instagram as well. He feels they are not taking the necessary steps to identify and take down these posts. Zuckerberg claimed not to be aware of the exact nature of Gottlieb’s comments but said he would have someone at any meeting held that included tech representatives.
Getting Help in Addiction
Overdose deaths from prescription pill addiction doubled from 21,089 deaths in 2010 to 42,249 deaths in 2016. There is help available for people who are struggling with opioid addictions. This help comes in the form of rehabilitation.
(Pathfinders Recovery Centers in Arizona and Colorado provide prescription drug addiction treatment can help people overcome their potentially deadly habit. This piece originated on the Pathfinders Website.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.