FBI Probes Snapchat’s Role In Fentanyl Poisoning Deaths

Federal agencies are questioning Snapchat’s role in the spread and sale of fentanyl-laced pills in the United States as part of a broader probe into the deadly counterfeit drugs crisis. The Los Angeles Times reports: FBI agents and Justice Department attorneys are zeroing in on fentanyl poisoning cases where the sales were arranged to young buyers via Snapchat […]. The agents have interviewed parents of children who died and are working to access their social media accounts to trace the suppliers of the lethal drugs, according to the people. In many cases, subpoenaed records from Snapchat have shown that the teenagers thought they were buying prescription painkillers, but the pill they swallowed was pure fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine.

On Wednesday, the involvement of technology companies in the ongoing fentanyl crisis will be discussed on Capitol Hill at a House Energy and Commerce Committee roundtable. One of the listed speakers, Laura Marquez-Garrett, an attorney with the Social Media Victims Law Center, said Snapchat will be the focus. “The death of American children by fentanyl poisoning is not a social media issue — it’s a Snapchat issue,” she said. […] While dealers use many social media platforms to advertise their drugs, experts, lawyers and families say Snapchat is the platform of choice for arranging sales. Dealers prefer to use Snapchat because of its encrypted technology and disappearing messages — features that have given the platform an edge over its rivals for fully legitimate reasons and helped it become one of the world’s most popular social media apps for teens.

Former White House drug czar Jim Carroll said drug traffickers are always going to flock to where the young people are. “From everything I have read, I do believe that Snapchat has been more widely used for facilitating drug sales,” than other platforms, said Carroll, who serves on Snap’s safety advisory council and now works for Michael Best Consulting. “I think that’s because of its popularity among the young.” In December, Snap reported 363 million daily active users in its quarterly earnings report. That same month, the National Crime Prevention Council wrote a letter to Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, urging the Justice Department to investigate Snap and its business practices. “Snapchat has become a digital open-air drug market allowing drug dealers to market and to sell fake pills to unsuspecting tweens and teens,” the letter said. Garland didn’t respond, but federal investigators have started to ask questions, multiple people said. Santa Monica-based Snap, which makes Snapchat, said it has worked with law enforcement for years to clamp down on illegal activity on its platform and has boosted moderation efforts to detect illegal drug sales. Last year, Snap said it removed more than 400,000 user accounts that posted drug-related content.

“We are committed to doing our part to fight the national fentanyl poisoning crisis, which includes using cutting-edge technology to help us proactively find and shut down drug dealers’ accounts,” Rachel Racusen, a Snap spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

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Many People Aren’t Sticking Around Mastodon

The number of active users on the Mastodon social network has dropped more than 30% since the peak and is continuing a slow decline, according to the latest data posted on its website. There were about 1.8 million active users in the first week of January, down from over 2.5 million in early December. The Guardian reports: Mastodon, an open-source network of largely independently hosted servers, has often been touted as an alternative to Twitter. And its growth appears connected to controversies at Twitter. But for many it doesn’t fulfill the role that Twitter did and experts say it may be too complicated to really replace it. […]

There were about 500,000 active Mastodon users before Elon Musk took control of Twitter at the end of October. By mid-November, that number climbed to almost 2 million active users. […] The surge in new Mastodon users continued throughout November, peaking at over 130,000 new users a day. The upticks often coincided with controversial decisions made by Elon Musk. Data from Google suggests there was also a surge in searches for Mastodon in April 2022, around the time Musk announced he had become Twitter’s largest shareholder.

“Twitter, in its most basic form is simple,” Meg Coffey, a social media strategist, said. “You can open up an app or open up a website, type some words, and you’re done. I mean, it was [a] basic SMS platform.” For many, Mastodon may have proved too hard to port over their communities and was just too complicated. Some may have gone back to Twitter, while others, said Coffey, may have dropped social media entirely. “Everybody went and signed up [on Mastodon] and realized how hard it was, and then got back on Twitter and were like, ‘Oh, that’s, that’s hard. Maybe we won’t go there,'” she said. “It’s like the people that said ‘I’m moving to Canada’ when Donald Trump was elected,” Coffey added. “They never actually moved to Canada.”

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Mastodon Continues to Grow – But Still .27% the Size of Twitter

By Tuesday morning Mastodon had gained 123,562 new users since October 27 (the site told TechCrunch) and had 528,607 active users. But by Saturday the number of new users had nearly doubled, to 230,000, reports CNN — with 655,000 active users.

In fact, for every 363 active users on Twitter, there’s now one on Mastodon, CNN’s figures suggest (since Twitter has nearly “238 million daily active monetizable users”). Exploring the recent spike, they note that Mastodon “has a similar look to Twitter, with a timeline of short updates sorted chronologically rather than algorithmically. It lets users join a slew of different servers run by various groups and individuals, rather than one central platform controlled by a single company like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.”

Unlike larger social networks, Mastodon is both free to use and free of ads. It’s operated by a nonprofit run by Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko, and is supported via crowdfunding… “It is not as large as Twitter, obviously, but it is the biggest that this network has ever been,” said Rochko, who originally created Mastodon as more of a project than a consumer product (and, yes, its name was inspired by the heavy metal band Mastodon)….

A lot of Mastodon’s features and layout (particularly in its iOS app) will look and feel familiar to current Twitter users, though with some slightly different verbiage; you can follow others, create short posts (there’s a 500 character limit, and you can upload images and videos), favorite or repost other users’ posts, and so on…. There are some key differences, particularly in how the network is set up. Because Mastodon users’ accounts are hosted on a slew of different servers, the costs of hosting users is spread among many different people and groups. But that also means users are spread out all over the place, and people you know can be hard to find.

CNN also notes the problem with signing up for a Mastodon server: “some of which are open to anyone, some of which require an invitation (you can also run your own server). There is a server operated by the nonprofit behind Mastodon, Mastodon.social, but it’s not accepting more users.”

Although trending on the server I found today: #Caturday photos.

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Instagram Jumps Into NFTs With Minting and Selling Feature

Meta’s Instagram will soon allow artists to create and sell their own NFTs both right on the social media platform and off it. Axios reports: IG’s feature will roll out to a small group of select creators in the U.S. to start, according to Meta. The first creators tapped to test the feature include photographer Isaac âoeDriftâ Wright, known as DrifterShoots, and artist Amber Vittoria. Meta won’t charge fees for posting or sharing an NFT on IG, though, app store fees still apply. Separately, there will be a “professional mode” for Facebook profiles for creators to build a social media presence separate from their personal one. Artist royalties appear to be a part of the plan.

Minting or the creating of NFTs on IG will start on Polygon, a boon for the layer-2 blockchain (a separate blockchain built on top of Ethereum) given the potential onboarding of IG’s billion active users. The price of Polygon’s token MATIC jumped 17% from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning, boosted by IG news but also, because JPMorgan conducted its first live DeFi trade using that blockchain. The platform is adding support for Solana blockchain and Phantom wallet with the latest feature update, adding them to the list of already-supported wallets such as MetaMask, Coinbase Wallet, Dapper Wallet, Rainbow and Trust Wallet. Ethereum and Flow blockchains are already supported. Info for selected collections with OpenSea metadata, like collection name and description, will show up on IG.

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Tumblr Will Now Allow Nudity But Not Explicit Sex

Tumblr has made an update it hinted at in September, changing its rules to allow nudity — but not sexually explicit images — on the platform. The Verge reports: The company updated its community guidelines earlier today, laying out a set of rules that stops short of its earlier permissive attitude toward sexuality but that formally allows a wider range of imagery. “We now welcome a broader range of expression, creativity, and art on Tumblr, including content depicting the human form (yes, that includes the naked human form). So, even if your creations contain nudity, mature subject matter, or sexual themes, you can now share them on Tumblr using the appropriate Community Label,” the post says. “Visual depictions of sexually explicit acts remain off-limits on Tumblr.”

A help center post and the community guidelines offer a little more detail. They say that “text, images, and videos that contain nudity, offensive language, sexual themes, or mature subject matter” is allowed on Tumblr, but “visual depictions of sexually explicit acts (or content with an overt focus on genitalia)” aren’t. There’s an exception for “historically significant art that you may find in a mainstream museum and which depicts sex acts — such as from India’s Sunga Empire,” although it must be labeled with a mature content or “sexual themes” tag so that users can filter it from their dashboards.

“Nudity and other kinds of adult material are generally welcome. We’re not here to judge your art, we just ask that you add a Community Label to your mature content so that people can choose to filter it out of their Dashboard if they prefer,” say the community guidelines. However, users can’t post links or ads to “adult-oriented affiliate networks,” they can’t advertise “escort or erotic services,” and they can’t post content that “promotes pedophilia,” including “sexually suggestive” content with images of children. On December 17th, 2018, Tumblr permanently banned adult content from its platform. The site was owned by Verizon at the time and later sold to WordPress.com owner Automattic, which largely maintained the ban “in large part because internet infrastructure services — like payment processors and Apple’s iOS App Store — typically frown on explicit adult content,” reports The Verge.

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Behind TikTok’s Boom: A Legion of Traumatized, $10-A-Day Content Moderators

Time magazine teamed up with a London based non-profit newsroom called the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in an investigation that reveals that “horrific” videos “are part and parcel of everyday work for TikTok moderators in Colombia.”

They told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about widespread occupational trauma and inadequate psychological support, demanding or impossible performance targets, punitive salary deductions and extensive surveillance. Their attempts to unionize to secure better conditions have been opposed repeatedly. TikTok’s rapid growth in Latin America — it has an estimated 100 million users in the region — has led to the hiring of hundreds of moderators in Colombia to fight a never-ending battle against disturbing content. They work six days a week on day and night shifts, with some paid as little as 1.2 million pesos ($254) a month, compared to around $2,900 for content moderators based in the U.S….

The nine moderators could only speak anonymously for fear they might lose their jobs, or undermine their future employment prospects…. The TikTok moderation system described by these moderators is built on exacting performance targets. If workers do not get through a huge number of videos, or return late from a break, they can lose out on a monthly bonus worth up to a quarter of their salary. It is easy to lose out on the much-needed extra cash. Ãlvaro, a current TikTok moderator, has a target of 900 videos per day, with about 15 seconds to view each video. He works from 6am to 3pm, with two hours of break time, and his base salary is 1.2m pesos ($254) a month, only slightly higher than Colombia’s minimum salary…. He once received a disciplinary notice known internally as an “action form” for only managing to watch 700 videos in a shift, which was considered “work avoidance”. Once a worker has an action form, he says, they cannot receive a bonus that month….

Outsourcing moderation to countries in the global south like Colombia works for businesses because it is cheap, and workers are poorly protected…. For now… TikTok’s low-paid moderators will keep working to their grueling targets, sifting through some of the internet’s most nightmarish content.
The moderators interviewed all had “contractor” status with Paris-based Teleperformance, which last year reported €557 million ($620m) in profit on €7.1 billion ($8.1 billion) in revenue. In fact, Teleperformance has more than 7,000 content moderators globally, according to stats from Market Research Future, and the moderators interviewed said that besides TikTok, Teleperformance also provided content moderators to Meta, Discord, and Microsoft.

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