US Investigating Social Media Giant For Potentially Profiting From Illegal Drug Sales

(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

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Jake Smith Contributor
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The U.S. is investigating Facebook’s parent company for its potential involvement in the sale of illicit drugs on social media platforms, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Prosecutors have sent a flurry of subpoenas to Meta as part of a larger probe to determine whether the company’s social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, are hosting and profiting off illegal drug sales, according to the WSJ. Meta and its subsidiary companies have fallen under scrutiny from critics and lawmakers for facilitating content damaging to users, especially the youth, raising questions about its role in maintaining what is posted on their platforms. (RELATED: Trump Says Banning TikTok Would Help ‘Enemy’ Facebook)

The prosecutors are subpoenaing records related to the “violative drug content on Meta’s platforms and/or the illicit sale of drugs via Meta’s platforms,” according to a copy of the documents reviewed by the WSJ. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working in concert with the prosecutors to conduct the probe.

An investigation does not always indicate criminal or unlawful behavior, the WSJ noted. Meta said in a statement that their policies prohibit facilitating illegal drugs on the company’s platforms.

A car drives by a new logo and the name 'Meta' on the sign in front of Facebook headquarters on October 28, 2021 in Menlo Park, California.

MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 28: A car drives by a new logo and the name ‘Meta’ on the sign in front of Facebook headquarters on October 28, 2021, in Menlo Park, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“The sale of illicit drugs is against our policies and we work to find and remove this content from our services,” a Meta spokesman told the WSJ. “Meta proactively cooperates with law enforcement authorities to help combat the sale and distribution of illicit drugs.”

A special agent from the FDA delivered a subpoena to the Algorithmic Transparency Institute, a subsidiary of the National Conference on Citizenship, for records related to problematic drug content on Meta’s social media platforms, according to the WSJ. The Algorithmic Transparency Institute handed over thousands of telehealth advertisements in Meta’s vaults, some of which featured prescription drugs.

Telehealth companies saturated Facebook and Instagram during the pandemic with advertisements for prescription drugs claiming to treat anxiety, hyperactivity and other disorders, according to the WSJ. Relevant witnesses testified that these ads contributed to the misuse of drugs like Adderall.

Telehealth companies have previously advertised drugs that failed to mention negative side effects, one of which is still two years off from FDA approval, according to the WSJ. Some of these companies recently ran advertisements of a counterfeit version of a weight-loss drug, some of which Meta took down, only to have clones almost immediately reappear on the platforms.

Lawmakers sent a letter to the FDA in February requesting the agency play a bigger role in cracking down on advertisement of prescription drugs on social media, according to the WSJ. Companies like Meta can evade responsibility through Section 230, which declares that social media platforms are not legally liable — with some exception — for what a third party posts.

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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