Social media giants Facebook and Twitter, along with technology giant Google, have teamed up to form an anti-drug coalition.
The resulting partnership goes by the attractive nickname Tech Together to fight the opioid crisis – a bit more literal than The Avengers – and is led by the Secure Pharmacy Center on the Internet.
The first meeting of the group took place in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, November 13, and featured representatives outlining the coalition's goals, plans and commitments. The main goal of TTFOC is to understand and act on how the internet and social media can be used to combat the "opiate epidemic" that currently affects America.
By 2017, nearly 50,000 people in the United States have died of an overdose of opioid-based drugs, including legal and illegal drugs such as heroin and morphine. This high fatality rate and the resulting cost to medical institutes and communities have led many groups to find ways to combat the use of such drugs.
In a Newsroom post, Facebook unveiled its plans to fight drugs on its platforms. Working with the University of Alabama's computer forensics lab, he will explore and remove the avenues through which drug traffickers come to sell illegal substances on Facebook and Instagram. This includes plans to use artificial intelligence to detect drug-related content and prevent traffickers from publicizing their services by sending phone numbers, prices, or usernames to other social media accounts, a measure being launched on Facebook.
In addition, when people search for opioid drugs on the platforms, they will be redirected to support lines for education and treatment. So far, neither Twitter nor Google have outlined their own plans or policies in the light of TTFOC.
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However, the positive effect of Facebook's efforts may be limited. Avinash Tharoor, director of policy and communications for Release, the UK's national center of drug experts, told Alphr that attempts by companies to block drug sales may be well-intentioned but unlikely to have a major impact.
"Just like on the streets, online people will continue to find new and innovative ways to buy or sell drugs, regardless of attempts at repression. If these technology companies take seriously the harm reduction of illegal drugs, they can give drug seekers easy access to harm reduction advice.
"Facebook, Twitter and Google could save lives by linking to evidence-based guidelines on how to reduce the risk of overdose and other potential harm associated with drug use."
While TTFOC's efforts are focused on America and the American opiate crisis, its findings, policies and actions could easily be implemented on UK social media as well. Alphr contacted Facebook to clarify whether his drug detection AI would reach the UK and, if so, when.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been repeatedly called upon to police their own platforms for illegal content, and the formation of such a coalition shows a greater awareness of the impact they have on society. Although social media is still far from being a force for good, with long periods of social media use having negative effects on mental well-being and increasing narcissistic tendencies, attempts to address social problems are always appreciated.