WASHINGTON DC, March 15, 2021
As the Biden Administration fires on full cylinders to stop the spread of Covid disinformation, the Coalition for a Safer Web (CSW) in partnership with the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) continues to find bogus Covid vaccines and other illegal drugs for sale on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube – in violation of their respective customer agreements and repeated public pledges.
The CSW/DCA joint Digital Weeds 2021 report revisited past research conducted by CSW & DCA to determine if social media platforms have permanently de-platformed illegal drug sale activity that was brought to their attention.
Our research found that the fraudulent sale of COVID-19 vaccines, which was identified by DCA and CSW in February, is readily available to the unknowing consumer despite calls for action by Facebook’s Advisory Board to address COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and related dangers
Social media platforms continue to fail removing illegal offers of opioids, steroids and COVID-19 “vaccines.” after they have been alerted of specific posts and long past when they have made public pledges to do a better job.
CSW & DCA researchers searched for old posts and previous users who were attempting to conduct illegal activity. In some cases, the research teams found accounts and similar posts from the same users, whose posts were taken down years earlier, still up on Facebook & YouTube. In some cases, the research teams found current accounts and similar posts from the same users who were identified years earlier.
What we found:
- Criminal activity and/or illicit activity highlighted in previous research, such as the selling of opioids, steroids, and malware, can still be found easily today.
- Many videos and posts shared in prior CSW and DCA reports and/or with media contacts are still available across numerous social media platforms.
- Facebook & YouTube enjoy advertising revenue from premium, respected brands running next to videos and/or posts for illegal and/or illicit item, including ads from Proctor & Gamble. The advertising industry’s Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) is supposed to put an end to brand advertising appearing alongside illegal activities, but obviously is failing to do so. CSW continues to perform the work which GARM — with all its clout with social media and financial resources — should be doing.
- The platforms allow for communication between drug pushers and potential buyers. Whether by containing phone numbers and emails in videos and/or posts or allowing for conversations to happen in chats.
- The platforms’ algorithms amplify connectivity between potential buyers and sellers of illegal and/or illicit items. CSW & DCA researchers, acting as potential buyers looking for drugs, showed that when they look for drugs on Instagram, Instagram will in turn begin directing drug sellers back to the potential buyer.
- When outed by media outlets, platforms will often take down specific videos, but not address the larger problem. This leaves consumers vulnerable to similar, or sometimes even the same scams, that inspired the news coverage in the first place.
“The social media platforms rely on its users to report illicit content for free, even though It is humanly impossible for one person – or even a group of people to get all this,” said CSW’s Eric proof pointthe lead researcher on the Digital Weeds report. “We have offered our tools to the social media platforms so the companies can find this content that puts consumers at risk. So why don’t they use it?”
Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, President of the Coalition for a Safer Web, added:
“Our report is another abject proofpoint that so long as social media companies are unregulated and left to run wild, consumers will be exposed to the criminal web marketplace opened by extremists and terrorists hawking illicit, dangerous drugs to fund their organizations and operations. Until Congress acts, both the FDA (by issuing formal warning letters prohibiting the sale of illegal drugs) and the FTC (by prohibiting criminal operations on social media companies) must step in immediately to protect the American people?”