Zuckerberg Testimony: Should Facebook Be Stopping Opioid Trafficking?
Author: Justin Mckibben
This past Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself sitting in front of a tough crowd on Capitol Hill for 2 days of questioning that covered various topics about the social media empire. The testimony covered how Facebook influences politics, handles user data, and what steps are being taken to prevent abuse of the massive tech companies international platform.
During the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg, the topic came up of drug trafficking, specifically opioid sales, through Facebook.
Is Social Media Enabling Illegal Activity?
The line of questioning concerning opioids came from David McKinley. McKinely is the Republican Representative from West Virginia. On day two of the testimony, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about opioid dealers abusing the social media space in order to distribute their drugs. During the conversation, McKinley states,
“Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law, and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription,”
The Congressman went on to ask,
“With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in so doing, you are hurting people. Would you agree with that statement?”
“Congressman, I think that there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job of policing on our service. Today the primary way that content regulation works here … is that people can share what they want on the service, and then if someone sees an issue they flag it to us, and then we will review it.”
During McKinley’s comments, he actually shows Zuckerberg with images on a screen that opioids and other prescription narcotics are still actively being sold via Facebook. Later in McKinely’s statements he adds,
“That was just from yesterday. It’s still up. So my question to you is- when are you going to take down these posts that are done by illegal digital pharmacies?”
“Congressman, when people report the posts, we will take them down and have people review them.”
When the congressman continued to press Zuckerberg on Facebook taking responsibility for the posts made on the platform concerning illegal drugs, Zuckerberg replied,
“Congressman, I agree that this is a terrible issue and respectfully, when there are tens-of-billions or a hundred-billion pieces of content shared every day… even 20,000 people reviewing it can’t look at everything. What we need to do is build more AI tools that can proactively find that content.”
- AI referring to artificial intelligence.
This is not the first time critics have called out tech companies for falling short on policing illicit drug sales through their platforms.
In 2011, search-engine giant Google agreed to pay $500 million to the Department of Justice for showing prescription drug ads from Canadian online pharmacies to U.S. consumers. Only a week before Zuckerberg sat down to speak with Congress, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had already called on social media platforms to root out and exterminate the online opioid trade. Gottlieb stated,
“We find offers to purchase opioids all over social media and the Internet, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But when it comes to opioids, we haven’t seen meaningful, voluntary actions.”
Some of the posts McKinely flagged to Facebook have already been taken down. However, McKinley still says that Facebook’s internal controls “don’t seem adequate” in regards to detecting and removing illegal drug posts.
Are Zuckerberg and Facebook Responsible?
The biggest theme- whether it came to Cambridge Analytica, censorship of political views, selling consumer data or illicit opioid marketing- was accountability.
The question throughout the testimony is- are Zuckerberg and Facebook responsible?
Some have argued that if Facebook intends to censor things like hate speech or political interference, then they should also be responsible for monitoring and shutting down any illegal activity happening on the website. Some people believe that if drug dealers are posting on social media, their posts should be automatically removed. That is a good goal. Others might even insist that Facebook should report these profiles to law enforcement to help investigate dealers and make more arrests.
But should Facebook be mandated and regulated to enforce these ideas? Moreover, should they be punished when people manage to cheat their system or slip through the cracks?
Many might argue Facebook should not be punished for the posts individuals make. One comparison might be that we do not prosecute cell-phone service providers when their products and services are used in illegal activity. And if we expect Facebook to thoroughly monitor all activity and report any suspicious behavior to the authorities, should cellular services be held to the same standard?
While private phone-calls are a far cry from public posts to the internet, what is the best way walk this line of privacy and security in the digital age?
Is it fair to say that Mark Zuckerberg is himself hurting people because his company is unable to police the hundreds of billions of posts made to their site every day? Or is it true that the company is slacking when it comes to addressing these issues promptly and effectively?
Social media is changing a lot of the way we communicate, and like any other advancement, it can be taken advantage of. One thing is certain; if we want to fight the opioid epidemic we have to put more research into prevention, and more focus and support into safe and effective treatment. Technology can impact drug use, but it can also connect people and help them get on the right path toward recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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Author: Justin Mckibben
I have written before about how technology these days seems to be developing new and creative ways to innovate and enable the drug market for people. It’s like every time we turn around there’s news about the Dark Web, drug dealers going digital on Instagram, or a new app for our smartphones that helps us to purchase drugs, or assist us in trying to get away with drinking or getting high.
An experiment to test the boundaries of the Internet was recently conducted by a pair of Swiss artists. The artists loaded an online robot with Bitcoins, which is the digital currency that is used in some digital marketplaces, and unleashed it onto the Dark Web for the ultimate illicit shopping spree.
The Robot Arts
In this expression of art and experimentation, the robot in question was allowed to buy anything and everything it could find on the Dark Web. During this period the robot did indeed make many legitimate purchases, but then robot did happen to purchase some illegal drugs. We could easily assume the experiment was some sort of success, but now this incident is raising questions about the legality of such an action.
London-based Swiss artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, better known as !Mediengruppe Bitnik, coded what has been called the Random Darknet Shopper. This robot is an automated online shopping machine, and per Weisskopf and Domagoji’s directs it was programmed to buy various items online, using specifically $100 in Bitcoin per week on a digital black-market that lists over 16,000 items.
Weisskopf and Smoljo ultimately constructed a performance piece that was put on display in an exhibition that closed on January 11. The robot art was crafted around the weird stuff their robot acquired, including all types of randomized objects such as:
- A pair of fake Diesel jeans
- Abaseball cap with a hidden camera
- Astash can
- Apair of Nike trainers
- Fake Hungarian passport
- 200 Chesterfield cigarettes
- Set of fire-brigade issued master keys
- Fake Louis Vuitton handbag
- 10 ecstasy pills
The problem came in with those illegal ecstasy pills and the contraband Hungarian passport. The line between artful expression and criminal action was crossed over when those purchases were made, and that fueled the question in Switzerland now as to whether these artists could be arrested under the law as it currently stands.
iBlame the Robot
So authorities in Switzerland are now faced with a strange question that seems to scifi to be a reality; if your online robot buys illegal drugs and contraband, are you yourself guilty of a crime?
As of now there was been no definitive answer. Ryan Calo, law professor from the University of Washington investigated the topic in paper called “Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw”. In his writing, Calo argued,
“Robotics has a different set of essential qualities than the Internet and, accordingly, will raise distinct legal issues. Robotics combines, for the first time, the promiscuity of data with the capacity to do physical harm; robotic systems accomplish tasks in ways that cannot be anticipated in advance; and robots increasingly blur the line between person and instrument.”
To some people Calo’s work may sound like the beginning of a conspiracy theorists ramblings, but is it really that far from the truth? Calo wrote even more on the topic an article for Forbes after hearing about the particular purchases made by the Swiss shopping-robot. In this writing Calo asked a tough question with the title of the piece alone: A Robot Really Committed A Crime: Now What? He then did his best to answer the question further on in the writing.
“If, for instance, the law says a person may not knowingly purchase pirated merchandise or drugs, there is an argument that the artists did not violate the law. Whereas if the law says the person may not engage in this behavior recklessly, then the artists may well be found guilty, since they released the bot into an environment where they could be substantially certain some unlawful outcome would occur.”
Calo went on to explain, saying that just wanting a bad outcome doesn’t make it illegal. We have not yet reached a reality of ‘thought-crime’ where our ill intentions can earn us punishment. That being said, to purposefully let a robot run wild in the Dark Web until it yielded contraband seems hard to distinguish from intent, because some would assume you designed it with this exact intention.
At the moment we may not have the system in place to police robots, but how will we properly monitor people to predict and regulate a robots Internet activity? When a robot breaks the law, will people be held responsible? Or will people be allowed to traffic drugs and blame it on their robots?
In a future not too far away we may see a change in how the Internet, artificial intelligence, and drugs are connected and controlled. As far-fetched as it seems, this is only the next step in the question of how much harm technology has the capacity of creating. Technology is increasingly convenient, but these days it could be making drugs and alcohol a little too easy for people to abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call-toll free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Let’s face it, we live in the digital age, and to so many people Google.com is our answer to everything! We google our movies, our music, our food and even pages upon pages of cat photos. We even talked once about how so many people use google to self-diagnose their illnesses that Google is creating an option to connect browsers directly to doctors to provide a slightly more accurate approach.
So tracking Google searches is a good way to find out what people are searching, what’s trending, and what to do when your cat gets a cold at a given time. Well apparently, Google search statistics can also be collected and analyzed using ‘Google Trends’ to show us what drugs people in America are doing and where, or what drugs the most people in one area are ‘curious’ about at least.
National Drug Google Data
According to the combined data that began in 2004, cocaine is actually the most searched for drug across the country over the past decade. Interesting enough, the drug crystal meth is steadily rising across the board, and searches for heroin and prescription drugs have become more common in the last five years. That should come as no surprising given that the country has been experiencing what many have dubbed an ‘opiate epidemic’, and prescription painkillers are currently public enemy number one in regard to overdose accidents in emergency rooms.
Meth has already been prevalent in the Midwest since 2004, but it didn’t get any surge of searches in other parts of the country until 2012. Adderall interest surged in recent years across the nation, but especially on the East Coast of the country.
Typically official crime rates and hospital statistics provide some good insight into drug abuse across the United States, but this accumulative data brought together by Google also reveals the extent of an illicit substances popularity on a state-by-state basis.
Mathamphetamine (Crystal Meth)
- During the 2000’s methamphetamine was reported as one of the most commonly abused drugs in the nation, and at one point meth even managed to surpass cocaine as it swept across Middle America.
- There was a spike in meth searches in 2005 and 2006. At the height of the it was the single most searched for drug in dozens of states.
- In the years 2013 and 2014 particularly interest in meth once again soared. These were the years when searches for meth took over the US, especially the west.
- Searches for the anxiety medication Xanax have also risen throughout the Midwest and south.
- Searches for Xanax first appeared in around 2009, and grew in popularity until around 2012, when they dipped.
- Then again Xanax searches made a comeback in 2013. Xanax-related hospital visits have doubled across the country over the past six years.
- In 2010 the prescription stimulant commonly prescribed for ADHD called Adderall became another popular substance of abuse.
- In between 2011 and 2012 Adderall was the only drug that came close to the number of Google searches for cocaine.
- 2013 and 2014 Adderall dominated the eastern states.
- Heroin was steadily searched for from 2004 until 2011.
- 2006 showed a spike searches for heroin in a few states including Maryland and Utah.
- As addictive prescription painkillers have become more tightly regulated, heroin has become an increasingly popular substitute in Pennsylvania and Oregon.
- After prescription opiate regulation started to step up to combat ‘pill mills’ and ‘doctor shopping’ the searches for heroin across the board began to rise, and reached a peak last year in 2014 as the opiate epidemic rages on.
State by State Basis
All the drugs studied have been rising since the end of 2009, except cocaine which has been on a bit of up and down from 2009-2012, and then up again from 2012 until now. When measuring the most popular searches for specific drugs in select states, researchers also came up with some interesting data. The top searches in some states are as follows:
- Los Angeles, California- Meth and LSD
- Pennsylvania- Heroin
- Massachusetts- Suboxone (a replacement opiate drug commonly used to wean off heroin use, but also commonly abused)
- New Orleans- Adderal
- New York- Cociane
- Seattle- OxyContin and ‘Magic Mushrooms’
- Virginia- Painkiller Oxycodone
- Florida- MDMA
With numbers like these, we can determine that while not every drug is becoming popular everywhere, there are some clear indications that a few have made their mark all over the map.
Granted some people who Google these drugs may be looking for treatment, they may be trying to help a loved one, they may even be writing a term paper or doing some other form of academic research, but for the most part you can assume that these drugs are being searched in these areas for a reason. We can only hope that the number of searches for treatment is rising as part of these statistics.
Like it or not, the world is still searching for the answers to the drug problem. The internet is speculated to be both part of the problem and part of the solution, but any way you look at it there is a need in this nation for some change. Each of us has the ability to take some action, we just need to commit to that first step toward a different future. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135