Parents who lost 16-year-old to overdose start petition asking TikTok, Snapchat to change policies
California parents said drug dealer approached his son on Snapchat
The parents of a 16-year-old boy who died from a fentanyl overdose in Los Angeles have started a petition calling on social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat to change their policies.
Dr. Laura Berman and her husband, Samuel Chapman, have garnered more than 32,000 signatures on the petition asking TikTok, Snapchat and Discord, in particular, to allow parents to have more control over their kids' activity on the apps through third-party safety apps like Bark.
Bark uses algorithms to alert parents when it detects potential risks on their kids' social media activity on apps that allow its software including Facebook's Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, which are popular among young users.
"Our petition and the law we're pushing with [Florida Democratic Rep.] Debbie Wasserman Schultz's leadership is to require any social media or gaming platform that has minors on it to allow parent-monitoring software," Chapman said. "… What we're asking for is: As long as this is becoming dangerous, let us inside our families monitor it, and our kids will know we're monitoring it."
A drug dealer approached Chapman's son, Sammy, on Snapchat and offered to sell him fentanyl, which Chapman and Berman later discovered was illicitly manufactured.
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The Los Angeles dealer shared a colorful advertisement on Snapchat showing the types of drugs he was selling.
"There's sex trafficking and drug trafficking going on," Chapman explained, "and it's beyond the pale and what's really important to notice now is with the increase in fentanyl over the border, the volume of this problem is blowing up, and I mean in the last three months. … So whatever problems Snapchat thinks they have … it's going to be quadrupled in the next 12 months."
He added that apps "need parents to protect their kids," otherwise they will face significant legal challenges.
A Snapchat spokesperson said in a statement that the company "strictly" prohibits "drug-related activity" on the platform and "aggressively" enforces violations of its policies and supports "law enforcement in their investigations."
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"We work to be as proactive as possible in preventing, detecting and combating this type of abuse, and are constantly improving our capabilities in this area," the spokesperson said. "We stand in support of those who are raising awareness on the dangers of fentanyl pills and are committed to being a partner in these efforts."
The spokesperson added that Snapchat is working to improve its moderation teams and tools that flag drug-related content and wording.
Fentanyl, an opioid for pain treatment, is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s preliminary figures on overdose deaths released in April showed nearly 90,000 such deaths in the year ending last September, marking 20,000 more than the year prior. That toll is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a year since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s, The New York Times reported.
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Nationally, the CDC has attributed the nationwide increase in overdose deaths to disruptions to daily life caused by the pandemic as well as street formulations laced with fentanyl.
Seizures of the deadly drug fentanyl have soared in recent months, with confiscations so far in fiscal year 2021 already exceeding the entirety of fiscal year 2020, according to Customs and Border Protection — the latest indication of the continued crisis at the southern border.
"My beautiful boy is gone. 16 years old. Sheltering at home," Berman wrote in a February Instagram post after her son's death. "A drug dealer connected with him on Snapchat and gave him [fentanyl-]laced Xanax or Percocet (toxicology will tell) and he overdosed in his room."
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She continued: "My heart is completely shattered and I am not sure how to keep breathing. I post this now only so that not one more kid dies. We watched him so closely. Straight A student. Getting ready for college. Experimentation gone bad. He got the drugs delivered to the house. Please watch your kids and WATCH SNAPCHAT especially. That’s how they get them."
Chapman and Berman attended a rally outside the Snapchat headquarters in Santa Monica, California, on Saturday with other parents who have lost children to illicit drugs sold via Snapchat. The rally was organized by the Alexander Neville Foundation, the Association of People Against Lethal Drugs (APALD), Drug Induced Homicide and other parents, according to a press release.
The father spoke with Snapchat founder and CEO Evan Spiegel on Saturday ahead of the rally but said he did not feel the platform adequately responded to his concerns.
"We are committed to making progress in the areas we discussed on our call: continuing to improve and invest in proactive detection and removal of drug-related content including referrals to law enforcement, investigating ways for parents to monitor their children's behavior without compromising data privacy and protection, reducing response times for law enforcement subpoenas including publicly disclosing our response times as part of our transparency reporting, closer collaboration with law enforcement to help families seek justice, and working to educate our community on the dangers of fentanyl," Spiegel said in an email to Chapman after their phone conversation, which was shared with Fox News.
He added that he "can provide periodic updates on our efforts and the investments we are making" to Chapman and Berman and that the company works with law enforcement "on a daily basis."
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In his response to Spiegel, Chapman denies this, saying police told him personally that Snapchat is difficult to work with. He provided the names and phone numbers of some of the officers who responded to the scene of his son's death.
"We would not make it up," Chapman wrote. "Our story is horrible enough without having to make anything up. I think you will find the police reluctant to go on the record with their criticism."
The Santa Monica Police Department said in a statement that the department's "relationship with Snap, Inc. is collaborative."
"As you know, there is a process we must follow to obtain the necessary warrants to receive information from a technology company like Snap, and even under the best of circumstances that process takes time," the statement reads. "Snap, Inc has cooperated with our Department's ongoing investigation into this incident, providing all the information we have asked for."
Chapman said that aside from that conversation, he has only received word of what companies are doing to stop the issue from "press releases" since his son died in February.
He continued, "They use excuses like privacy and the functionality of their operating systems as their reasoning" behind not providing parental controls or partner apps like Bark.
Fox News' Kayla Rivas and Frank Miles contributed to this report.