Jan 18, 2022 - Technology

Snapchat making it harder for strangers to find users under 18

Photo illustration: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Snapchat is adding a new safeguard meant to ensure that young users only connect with people on the social network that they know in real life.

How it works: Snapchat is changing its "Quick Add" friends suggestion so that it is impossible to add users under 18 unless there are a certain number of friends in common, a spokesperson told Axios.

Catch up quick: Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram and other social giants have faced pressure to address drug sales on their platforms in light of a growing number of teen deaths linked to illicit drugs, particularly fentanyl.

  • Snapchat has acknowledged the issue, writing in a blog post last October, "[w]e are determined to remove illegal drug sales from our platform, and we have been investing in proactive detection and collaboration with law enforcement to hold drug dealers accountable for the harm they are causing our community." 
  • Since last October, a Snapchat spokesperson says the company has upped its security and law enforcement efforts to tackle drug issues on its platform, including hiring more people to work on those issues specifically.
  • The company says that 88% of the drug-related content it uncovers is now proactively detected using artificial intelligence, with the remainder reported by Snapchat's users.

Between the lines: Snapchat's new policy aims to limit ways dealers, or any potential bad actors, can be added as a friend by a young user.

  • Conversations and illegal activity pertaining to drugs can happen on any platform.
  • Those that, like Snapchat, have encrypted and ephemeral chats by default — and that are widely used by young people — can provide an opportunity for drug dealers to communicate further with users after finding them elsewhere online or in person.

The big picture: Snapchat's policy is to ban accounts associated with illegal drug dealing activity and block the offender from creating new accounts. In some cases, it will proactively refer the accounts to law enforcement for investigation. 

What to watch: In addition to the new product feature, a spokesperson says Snapchat is expanding the in-app content resources that it provides from experts around drug-related issues.

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