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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Snapchat on Thursday publicly addressed reports about young users buying fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills from drug dealers via its platform, announcing a new in-app tool called "Heads Up" that provides content to users from substance abuse experts when they search for drug-related keywords.

Why it matters: Snapchat has been able to avoid most of the regulatory and public relations headaches that its competitors have faced in the past few years by focusing on connections between close friends. But because its platform caters to young users, it's also vulnerable to problems related to minors and safety.

Snapchat's new "Heads Up" tool

Details: In a blog post released Friday, Snapchat said it will distribute content via its "Heads Up" tool from groups such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Song for Charlie, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about fentanyl-laced pills, and Shatterproof, an addiction treatment nonprofit.

  • It will also include additional resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be added in the coming weeks.
  • The company has launched a video ad campaign to raise awareness about the issue to its users and says it's rolling out a new national augmented reality filter that directs users to the new "Heads Up" portal with educational information
  • "We believe it is our responsibility to keep our community safe on Snapchat and we have made significant operational improvements over the past year to eradicate drug sales from our platform and we are continually working to improve," the company said.
  • The company said it has made investments over the past year in law enforcement operations, improving its response time to various crises. It’s rolling out these new updates ahead of World Mental Health Day on Sunday.

The big picture: Social media companies catering to young users, like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, have been under increased pressure to address drug sales in light of a growing number of teen deaths due to illicit drugs during the pandemic.

  • A report from NBC News out last week profiled several teens who had died after receiving pills from dealers on Snapchat that turn out to be laced with fentanyl.

Go deeper

Oct 18, 2021 - Technology

The living room is now a virtual hub

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Internet companies are leaning into new services that add a social component to the otherwise isolated experience of staying home in front of a screen.

Why it matters: These options for virtual watch parties, virtual concerts and communal gaming often rely on smart TVs — turning the living room back into a place to socialize with friends, even if they're not actually there.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the defense table during jury selection at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty on all counts for carrying out the 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, including 14 students and three staff members.

Driving the news: Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty at a hearing on Wednesday to 17 murder counts and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for carrying out the deadly shooting.

2 hours ago - Health

White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11

Charles Muro, 13, is inoculated at Hartford Healthcare's mass vaccination center at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday released its plan to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration of the first COVID-19 shot for that age group.

The big picture: The White House said it has secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of school and community health clinics, as well as tens of thousands of pharmacies, to administer the shots.

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