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Social Media Sites Face Criticism For Enabling Drug Dealing to Kids

Three years ago, Amy Neville went to her son Alex's bedroom and found the 14-year-old lying dead on a bean bag chair. He had overdosed — Neville describes it as a "poisoning" — on fentanyl. "An amazing child who could do anything he set his mind to was gone," Neville testified Wednesday to a House panel, NPR reports. According to Neville, her son began experimenting with illicit opioids and other drugs while using the social media site Snapchat. "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," she said. The dealer who sold fentanyl to Alex was never caught or prosecuted. Snapchat hasn't acknowledged any role in his death. Neville said social media companies aren't being held accountable for putting children like Alex in danger. She and other witnesses called for changes to a provision of federal law known as Section 230, which shields social media companies from most civil lawsuits linked to content on their platforms created by users — including users engaged in criminal activity.

"The question isn't whether tech is completely responsible for illicit drug sales," said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND). "They aren't." Armstrong did join a chorus of lawmakers who say it's time for the law to be reformed. He said, "The question is what duty we should impose on those [social media] platforms to mitigate illegal illicit drug sales. The answer can no longer be 230's near total immunity." Supporters of Section 230 argue it has allowed tech companies to open platforms to a wide array of speech. They fear changes could lead to a flood of lawsuits, forcing companies to curb controversial topics. Critics at Wednesday's hearing said immunity from civil lawsuits has allowed social media companies to focus on profits that come from attracting and engaging young people, while neglecting safety.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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