A photo shows the logos of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and Snapchat. (Denis Charlet/Getty Images)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Oct. 10 that allows individuals to seek court orders requiring social media companies to remove posts related to illegal drug activity.
Designed to stem the online flow of narcotics—including fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine—Senate Bill 60, authored by Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), provides legal authority for a court to order posts removed containing offers to administer, furnish, give away, import, sell, or transport any controlled substances regulated by California law.
As a former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the author said the new law represents a “small but important first step” to address the growing fentanyl crisis.
“The scourge of fentanyl is unlike anything this country has ever seen before,” Mr. Umberg said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times on Oct. 17. “The Governor has taken strong executive action on this matter, but it’s time for the Legislature to do our job and provide him, the Attorney General, our local district attorneys, and families alike with the tools to be able to hold drug dealers accountable for this crisis.”
Social media platforms that provide options to report posts will have up to 48 hours to respond to requests for removal before a court may order such, with immediate court orders allowed for platforms lacking reporting functions.
With over 6,000 dying annually from fentanyl in California—based on the latest statistics from the California Department of Public Health, and over 600 dead so far this year in San Francisco—the author said the new law will help prevent unintentional overdoses and disrupt distribution rings operating on social media. He also said he has plans to do more to protect public safety.
“As a society, we bear a collective responsibility to care for our citizens,” Mr. Umberg said. “I fully intend to join my Senate colleagues in returning next year with a package of measures to provide our law enforcement agencies and judicial system with some additional tools in this battle.”
Smartphones and social media have facilitated accessibility and expanded how drugs are sold—with platforms like Snapchat and TikTok frequently used by criminal enterprises to target young clientele—according to law enforcement experts.
The rise of online trading has led to an increase in overdose fatalities, as illicit narcotics are often purchased through posts made on social media platforms and delivered to homes and nearby locations by third-party delivery services, experts said.
Exacerbating the problem is the prevalence of counterfeit pharmaceutical pills sold online—with consumers believing they are purchasing Xanax, Percocet, Adderall, or other drugs, but receiving fentanyl-laced imitations—leading to overdose deaths across the nation.
Seizures across the country revealed that 40 percent of all counterfeit pills seized in 2021 contained lethal doses of fentanyl. Nearly 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, more than 80,000 of which involved opioids, including fentanyl, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
People opposed to the sale of illegal drugs on Snapchat participate in a rally outside the company's headquarters to call for tighter restrictions on the popular social media app following fatal overdoses of the powerful opioid fentanyl in Santa Monica, Calif., June 13, 2022. (Ringo Chiu/AFP via Getty Images)
Such represents a jump in opioid deaths of nearly 400 percent from 2010, when 21,000 fentanyl-related deaths occurred out of a total of 40,000 overdoses.
Supporters of the measure note that in that time frame, social media use accelerated rapidly, suggesting the postings and activities seen today online are facilitating the crisis by making drugs more readily available.
“In a substantial amount of the cases we have investigated, social media was the means for making a drug sale,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department wrote in the bill’s legislative analyses. “By allowing a person to seek a court order requiring social media platforms to remove content pertaining to the sale of illegal drugs, SB 60 will help reduce the prevalence of this illicit and deadly commerce.”
Critics of the new law argued in the legislative analyses that it could make the problem worse by causing companies to become heavy-handed with moderation practices, thus stifling free speech and potentially removing posts meant to benefit vulnerable individuals.
“It would be difficult for platforms to distinguish public safety alerts related to fentanyl-contaminated drugs circulating in a community or advertisements for needle exchange programs from the type of content targeted by this bill,” stated The Chamber of Progress—a Virginia-based trade group representing technology companies.
Unless further action is taken to extend the measure, the new law is slated to sunset on Jan. 1, 2028.