Families suing Snapchat over algorithm they say links children to drug dealers

More than 60 families have alleged that Snap, the parent company of the social media app Snapchat, has an algorithm that helps connect children to illegal drugs. The lawsuit filed Tuesday is an expanded version of a lawsuit that was filed back in October 2022.

The suit alleges that "despite Snap promoting and portraying Snapchat as a ‘goofy’ app for kids to use and send each other pictures, its known common use is as an ‘open-air drug market.’"

Sam Chapman, whose son died in 2021 from fentanyl poisoning says, "We’re suing over the non-speech behaviors that endanger children on these platforms."

The Chapmans are one of 65 families suing Snapchat not over free speech, but the system’s algorithms which Chapman claims have connected young people, like his son Sammy, with drug dealers and, in too many cases, to their untimely deaths. Sammy died in 2021. 

"The lawsuit callsz out the algorithms that they use to drive drug dealers to our children," Chapman said. "The geo-locater devices that they have show sex traffickers and drug dealers where are children are located on the earth… a highly dangerous feature.

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The legal action is not a class action lawsuit.

"This is 65 people with a lot of tragedy in common with the one platform that was the gun, if you will, that shot the fentanyl bullet at our children," Chapman said.

The families want the algorithm changed and want Snapchat to allow child monitoring software, so parents can protect their kids, who are, like Sammy, drawn to colorful menus and emojis that have drug-related messaging.

Both Chapman and Marc Berkman with the Organization for Social Media Safety, say special emojis serve as dark language to connect kids and drug dealers. For instance, an electric plug emoji means "plug me in."

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"A plug typically can mean someone is a drug dealer," Berkman said. "There are various emojis for other types of drugs."

To Berkman, it's a way to avoid using actual words to deal drugs. The lawsuits are just another salvo in the fight against fentanyl.

In a statement to FOX 11, Snap said that the filing is "riddled with false claims."

"While we don't typically comment on active litigation, unfortunately this amended filing is riddled with false claims about how the Snapchat app works," the statement read. "Our ongoing efforts to aggressively combat drug activity on our platform and shut down drug dealers, and our team members' statements. We remain deeply committed to doing our part to fight this urgent crisis."