Why Parents Are Blaming Snapchat as a Direct Cause of Their Children’s Deaths

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Why Parents Are Blaming Snapchat as a Direct Cause of Their Children’s Deaths
Samson Amore

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On a muggy Friday afternoon, over a dozen parents who have lost children to drug overdose or suicide marched to Snap Inc.’s Santa Monica headquarters to make their grievances against the social media company heard.


Numerous guardians took the mic and shared horrifying stories of finding their teenaged children dead in their own home after taking their own lives because of bullying on the app, or overdosing on illicit fentanyl obtained from drug dealers on Snapchat. The grieving parents carried bright yellow signs designed to look like Snapchat friend codes, with faces of their dead children in the center. Each poster displayed the date the child passed and noted they were “forever 17,” or the age when they died. They also had a slogan: “Snapchat is an accomplice to my murder.” The ages of the dead children ranged from 14 to 19 years old.

These protests have been happening for a while; dot.LA covered a similar march in June 2021.

Jeff Johnston, Sr., spoke about losing his son Jeffrey Johnston, Jr., to drugs he obtained via Snapchat. Johnston angrily took the mic and demanded CEO Evan Spiegel come out and face him. He also publicly encouraged Spiegel’s wife, Miranda Kerr, to divorce him, saying Spiegel was a “weak and evil man.”

Representatives from nonprofits including the Organization for Social Media Safety (OSMS) and ParentsTogether were also in attendance.

According to Snap spokesman Peter Boorgard, the company is working hard to stop dealers from abusing our platform. “We do this by employing certain technologies, working closely with law enforcement, collaborating with other technology companies, and by having a zero-tolerance policy where we shut off the infringer's account,” Boorgard said.

To his point, just last week, Snap announced it was a “founding partner” of National Fentanyl Awareness Day. And in 2021, Snap told Congress that banning drug sales on Snapchat is a “top priority.” But numerous parents told me that they feel Spiegel treats the problem of illicit drug sales on his app as “a PR problem,” and doesn’t view the situation as they do: A crisis.

As the modest group marched towards Snap’s inconspicuous headquarters at Donald Douglas Loop, I spoke with Amy Neville, the event organizer. She lost her son, 14 year-old Alexander Neville, in June 2020 to an overdose. Alexander unwittingly took fentanyl he thought was a pill of OxyContin or Xanax that he had received from a dealer that he’d connected with via the Snapchat app.

Samson Amore

Legal relief

In attendance were Glenn Draper and Laura Marquez Garrett, attorneys for the Seattle-based Social Media Victims Law Center, who are representing the parents of Sammy Chapman who died at age 16 after he took Fentanyl he thought was Oxycodone. The Chapman family is working to pass Sammy’s Law, sponsored by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz of Florida, which would require social media companies to integrate third-party softwares that would allow parents to track their kids’ usage and interactions.

“If fentanyl is the bullet, Snapchat is the gun that's delivering the bullet to our children,” Samuel Chapman, Sammy Chapman’s father said.

Draper is working with both the Berkman and Chapman families along with roughly 65 others, and filed a lawsuit against Snap on January 3 in LA Superior Court. He's optimistic that once that case progresses to discovery, the public could learn a lot about how Snap’s algorithms work.

Draper also said that he thinks Section 230, which protects tech companies from the consequences of their users’ behavior, needs to change, and noted that Congress is moving to consider federal legislation to change the statute to hold tech companies accountable.

Parental controls

Last August Snap created a feature called Family Center, which allowed parents to see their teen’s friend list, and who they’re speaking with (if the child consents). But Neville and Marc Berkman, CEO of the OSMS, said that wasn’t enough.

Neville said that the Family Center “means that you have to create an account, [so] now they’ve got increased usership. You can see who your kid’s talking to, but not what they’re talking about,” she added. “They [Snap] equate that to, ‘you don’t listen to their private conversations.’ Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But that option’s there, as a parent,” she said.

Disappearing content

One of Snapchat’s core features is the disappearing message. It’s been baked into the app since it launched in 2011, and it’s a key reason why people use the app. But the vanishing messages disturb parents who literally can’t see if their children are talking about drug sales, or being bullied. They’re asking for this data to be kept and accessible to users, a direct opposition to the app’s core function. The parents also allege the disappearing messages are why drug dealers prefer Snapchat to other platforms, since they can erase traces of their sales.

“This really isn’t a social media problem, this is a Snapchat-specific problem,” Draper said of the app’s unique functions. “You can use AI and all the most advanced moderation techniques to try and get drug dealers off of your site after the fact, but until you change the features that are attracting the drug dealers to your site in the first place, they're going to keep coming.”

Geolocation

Snap introduced a geolocation feature in 2017 called Snap Maps, which much like Apple’s FindMy app, lets Snapchat users see where their friends are. The feature was criticized almost immediately after launch, as parents raised concerns about it being perfect fodder for stalkers.

Users can turn this off, or choose to have only specific friends view their location. There’s also an option to go into “ghost mode,” which makes their location invisible. But parents argued that teens who might not know about these features’ settings and are liable to accept friend requests from strangers might misuse the feature. “They [dealers] use geolocation to find children in areas where they might be able to pay for the drugs, they solicit those children and then they use Snapchat to connect the dealer with the child and to make the arrangements for the drug deal,” Berkman argued.

Third-party monitoring

Neville and other parents also said they want neutral parties to be tasked with monitoring the company’s progress. “As far as our government and legislation are concerned, I really want that duty of care followed by third party auditing, because at this point, so much crime has happened on their platform,” Neville said. “We’re just supposed to take their word for it nowadays, we need third party auditing.”

These third parties, Neville suggested, could be law enforcement, the Organization for Social Media Safety, or anyone “who really can take a hard look at it and don't have any financial ties.”

Back in 2021, Snapchat said it was “generally open” to using third-party software, but Spiegel’s also said that it might not work, citing user privacy and scalability issues.

“We would take that on so long as we were completely independent of Snap,” Berkman said of being a Snapchat auditor. “The arrangement would have to enable complete independence and the funding for that process would have to be independent of a specific platform or the [tech] industry general.”

Editor's Note: Snap Inc. is an investor in dot.LA.

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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