House roundtable probes Snapchat's role in fentanyl crisis

On June 4, 2021, family and friends of Steve Filson and Amy Neville joined together to march outside the headquarters of Snap, Inc., the makers of the Snapchat social media application, to protest the role the platform allegedly played in the fentanyl poisoning deaths of their children, Jessica Filson and Alexander Neville. The march was organized by the Social Media Victims Law Center, a nonprofit organization that seeks to hold tech platforms accountable for their users' posts. The event brought attention to the issue and sparked a discussion among representatives from the Energy and Commerce Committee.

At the roundtable, witnesses testified that Snapchat's design features, such as disappearing messages, anonymity, and location sharing, are uniquely designed for both children and adults to find drugs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Justice (DOJ) are also investigating Snap's role in fentanyl sales, and lawmakers have expressed concern about other platforms such as Facebook Messenger.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has expressed interest in exploring potential legislation to protect kids online and limit liability protections for online platforms. The discussion has included tech impacts on kids' health, including mental health, and potentially narrowing liability protections for tech platforms. However, Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels noted that the lack of laws around how tech services should retain information for law enforcement and end-to-end encryption makes it difficult for investigations.

Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer who works on cases seeking to hold tech platforms accountable, suggested that Section 230, which shields platforms from liability for their users' posts, should be scrapped and replaced with a less politically biased standard. A Snap spokesperson said the company is working to fight the national fentanyl poisoning crisis and has taken measures to proactively catch illicit sales.

The march and roundtable have brought to light the issue of tech platforms' potential involvement in fentanyl sales, and the need for increased regulation and protection for children online. It remains to be seen what action will be taken to address these issues.


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