Facebook, Instagram reportedly being investigated for ‘profiting from the illegal sale of drugs’

Federal authorities are reportedly investigating Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta, for allegedly facilitating drug sales.

“U.S. prosecutors in Virginia have been sending subpoenas and asking questions as part of a criminal grand jury probe looking into whether the company’s social-media platforms are facilitating and profiting from the illegal sale of drugs,” The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, citing anonymous sources.

The prosecutors have reportedly requested records related to “violative drug content on Meta’s platforms and/or the illicit sale of drugs via Meta’s platforms,” according to these subpoenas that were delivered last year.

“The sale of illicit drugs is against our policies and we work to find and remove this content from our services,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement. “Meta proactively cooperates with law enforcement authorities to help combat the sale and distribution of illicit drugs.”

The Journal’s report, published Saturday, came a day after Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg revealed on the competing social media platform X that Meta has teamed up with the State Department to try to stop the sale of synthetic drugs online.

The Journal’s report continued by noting that “Meta has enlisted outside entities to screen advertisers and content that might violate rules regarding the promotion and sale of drugs.”

One such outside entity is LegitScript, which “helps determine which companies can advertise and promote prescription medication on its platforms.”

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham also previously “had a partnership with Facebook to help flag problematic content related to drug sales,” but that partnership is no longer active.

The response to the Journal’s reporting was mixed.

Some said Meta should spend more time blocking drug sales instead of targeting “offensive” speech:

Others said they weren’t surprised by the Journal’s reporting because they themselves have witnessed drug sales on Meta:

And finally, the last group of respondents argued that trying to target Meta or any other social media platform for drug sales is ridiculous:

In its report, the Journal also noted that the Alliance to Counter Crime Online has received a subpoena request related to the Meta investigation.

“As part of the investigation, prosecutors also subpoenaed the Algorithmic Transparency Institute, a project of the nonprofit National Conference on Citizenship, for research related to violative drug content on Meta Platforms,” according to the Journal.

“A special agent from the FDA’s criminal-investigations division delivered the subpoena, said Cameron Hickey, the conference’s chief executive. The group turned over to prosecutors thousands of telehealth company ads from Meta’s ad library, many featuring prescription drugs, which researchers collected at the request of the Journal in 2022, Hickey said,” the Journal reported.

During the pandemic, these companies reportedly flooded Meta’s properties, Facebook and Instagram, with ads for prescription drugs manufactured in other countries and without regulation.

“Employees and patients said in interviews that the ads contributed to the abuse of controlled substances such as Adderall,” according to the Journal.

Vivek Saxena

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