Volteface has today published the seminal report- DM for Details: Selling Drugs in the Age of Social Media, which examines social media’s role in facilitating drug supply in the UK and the impact that this is having on young people.

The comprehensive report draws on new nationally representative polling data of 16-to-24 year olds conducted for Volteface by Survation; an observational trawl of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram; interviews with police and youth workers; and focus groups with children.

The report found that dealers are increasingly using social media as a way to advertise drugs and advising that people direct message (‘dm’) them if they are interested in buying. 

Shockingly, our poll revealed that one in four (24%) young people are seeing drugs advertised on social media, most of which is cannabis. Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook were identified as the platforms where drug advertisements are most commonly seen.

This is not simply an issue that has transferred from the offline world onto the online world, social media’s design features have provided new opportunities for dealers to expand and professionalise their businesses.

Young people highlighted in focus groups that they were more likely to see an account advertising drugs as a ‘friend’, rather than as a ‘dealer’. This can leave young people vulnerable to exploitation, as well as reduce any trepidations they may have had around buying drugs. 

Unchallenged, this problem will only get worse, with drugs becoming further normalised and accessible to young people.

Volteface recommends that:

  • Since cannabis is the most widely-available drug on social media, taking the cannabis market out of the hands of criminals and into a legal regulated framework, through legalisation, is the most effective policy. By restricting access to underage use by law, and regulating the products available to buy, the Government can have the biggest impact. With 53% of the UK in favour of reform, a taskforce of experts should be appointed by the Government to recommend a world leading legislative and regulatory framework.
  • The Government should introduce a regulatory requirement for social media companies to monitor activity on their sites to ensure that they are aware of how language, emojis and design features may be used to facilitate drug dealing. This information, along with accounts suspected of drug dealing, should be shared with the police.
  • Statutory guidance should advise that schools have honest conversations with young people about the drug dealing they may witness on social media and educate them on how they can stay safe online. 

You can download the full report here.

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