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Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram face pressure to stop illegal drug sales as overdose deaths soar

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SAN FRANCISCO — Amy Neville lost her son last year after he took a pill made with fentanyl. Alex, 14 years old, connected with a drug dealer on social media app Snapchat to buy the pills, she said.

She has since protested outside Snap’s headquarters and called on the company in a letter signed by six other parents to set up an external committee of law enforcement representatives, parents and public health experts to review the company’s progress.

Snap responded to the parents in writing, saying it was committed to stopping drug trafficking on its platform. But that’s unsatisfactory, Neville says.

“As long as people are dying, it’s not enough,” she said.

Federal officials agree. This week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning about the increase of fake pills bought online that include fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be fatal in small doses. In an interview, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram specifically called out Snapchat and TikTok, two apps that are popular with teenagers and young adults, for not doing more to combat sales, and said that the agency was going to go to social media companies with specific demands.

But it’s not yet clear what those demands will be or how they might help. For years, illegal drug sales have been a scourge on Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok and other social media apps. Companies have repeatedly said they’re working to rid their sites of drug deals by hiring extra moderators, using artificial-intelligence algorithms to root out illegal material and limiting searches for keywords related to drugs. But prescription and other drugs can still easily be found for sale.

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More than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States last year, a surge of nearly 30 percent from the year before.

The public health crisis is renewing calls from not just law enforcement groups but concerned parents and researchers for the social media companies to do more. They want the companies to be more transparent about what’s happening on their platforms, to share more data with each other to help catch drug dealers who jump between apps and increase parental controls parents can keep tabs on what their kids are doing online.

Marc Berkman, chief executive of the Organization for Social Media Safety, said the nonprofit ran an informal test and found they were able to connect with drug dealers on multiple social media sites in under three minutes. A March report from the Digital Citizens Alliance, a consumer watchdog group, and Coalition for a Safer Web showed how Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and YouTube videos were used to promote drugs, in some instances to thousands of followers or viewers.

Facebook spokeswoman Avra Siegel said in a statement that the company doesn’t allow people to buy or sell drugs on its sites. It plans to join the nonprofit Partnership to End Addiction on Wednesday to work on a series of public service announcements about opioid addiction, she said.

Snap spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said in an email that the company strictly prohibits drug-related activity and fights it, as well as supporting law enforcement in investigations. The company also promotes videos about the dangers of drugs to teens who use its app.

TikTok spokeswoman Hilary McQuaide said in a statement it also removes accounts that promote illegal drug sales, using both technology and human reviewers to find and evaluate the violative material. TikTok blocks searches of some drug-related terms, instead directing users to its policies. It redirected a search term Monday after a Washington Post inquiry regarding drug-related content it surfaced.

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Some researchers acknowledge the difficulty of the problem. The sheer scale of information on the platforms is hard to police, and algorithms can do only so much. Drug dealers can use strange fonts or edit photos advertising drugs in ways that can trick image-recognition algorithms, creating an arms race between drug sellers and the social media companies.

“You see a lot more sophistication, a lot more aggressive moderation evasion,” said Tim Mackey, an associate professor at the University of California at San Diego and who runs a research start-up that has helped companies including Snap detect illegal online activity.

There’s more that the companies can do though, Mackey said, including investing more in training the artificial-intelligence algorithms that search for and remove drug advertisements. The companies should also share information on accounts that try to sell drugs, he said. Social media companies have done that in the past to identify and take down terrorist accounts, but they’re often hesitant to do it in other areas because of privacy concerns.

But many of the drug deals are taking place across platforms, Berkman said. For example, people may connect with drug dealers online on one site, then message with them on a second site and purchase pills on a third.

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Purchasing drugs through social media is “as easy as ordering a pizza,” Berkman said.

Some parents are demanding companies provide better ways to oversee their children‘s social media accounts.

Sam Chapman said he and his wife, television host and relationship therapist Laura Berman, call themselves “accidental activists.” Their 16-year-old son Sammy died in February after taking drugs he bought online which contained fentanyl.

Sammy met the drug dealer on Snapchat, Chapman said, where he was “presented a colorful menu designed for kids.”

“We thought sexting was all you had to worry about, but it’s much worse,” Chapman said. “It’s child sex slavery, it’s drugs, it’s bullying.”

Chapman and Berman are now working with the Organization for Social Media Safety on a bill for Congress that would require social media sites to integrate with parent monitoring software. The type of software allows parents to get alerts when their kids interact with concerning or illegal content online.

Some privacy advocates say these monitoring tools can actually hurt kids, for example by outing children who are gay to their parents and potentially exposing them to homophobic abuse. A Vice News investigation this year found that some child-monitoring software doesn’t work as well as it’s advertised.

But parents say it could help save children from harm. Chapman said they have asked Snapchat to allow one type of monitoring software to work on its site, but the company told him they had concerns about user privacy.

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“We’re trying to protect from criminals, and they’re talking about privacy,” he said.

Snapchat is building its own parental control tools, said the company’s Racusen.

“Our goal is to deliver solutions that work effectively and reliably without compromising the security and data privacy of our community,” she said.

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LinkedIn Makes its 20 Most Popular LinkedIn Learning Courses Freely Available Throughout August

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Looking to up your skills for a job change or career advancement in the second half of the year?

This will help – today, LinkedIn has published its listing of the 20 most popular LinkedIn Learning courses over the first half of 2022. In addition to this, LinkedIn’s also making each of these courses free to access till the end of the month – so now may well be the best time to jump in and brush up on the latest, rising skills in your industry.

As per LinkedIn:

As the Great Reshuffle slows and the job market cools, professionals are getting more serious about skill building. The pandemic accelerated change across industries, and as a result, skills to do a job today have changed even compared to a few years ago. Professionals are responding by learning new skills to future-proof their careers and meet the moment.” 

LinkedIn says that over seven million people have undertaken these 20 courses this year, covering everything from improved communication, project management, coding, strategic thinking and more.

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Here are the top 20 LinkedIn Learning courses right now, which you can access via the relevant links:

  1. Goal Setting: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) with Jessie Withers
  2. Excel Essential Training (Office 365/Microsoft 365) with Dennis Taylor
  3. Interpersonal Communication with Dorie Clark
  4. Cultivating a Growth Mindset with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  5. Project Management Foundations with Bonnie Biafore
  6. Using Questions to Foster Critical Thinking and Curiosity with Joshua Miller
  7. Essentials of Team Collaboration with Dana Brownlee
  8. Unconscious Bias with Stacey Gordon
  9. Learning Python with Joe Marini
  10. Communicating with Confidence with Jeff Ansell
  11.  Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Pete Mockaitis
  12. Learning the OWASP Top 10 with Caroline Wong
  13. Power BI Essential Training with Gini von Courter
  14. Strategic Thinking with Dorie Clark
  15. SQL Essential Training with Bill Weinman
  16. Developing Your Emotional Intelligence with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  17. Communication Foundations with Brenda Bailey-Hughes and Tatiana Kolovou
  18. Agile Foundations with Doug Rose
  19. Digital Marketing Foundations with Brad Batesole
  20. Critical Thinking with Mike Figliuolo
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If you’ve been thinking about upskilling, now may be the time – or maybe it’s just worth taking some of the programming courses, for example, so that you have a better understanding of how to communicate between departments on projects.

Or you could take an Agile course. If, you know, you don’t trust your own management ability.

The courses are available for free till August 31st via the above links.

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Instagram Is Rolling Out Reels Replies, And Will Be Testing A New Feature Which Informs …

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Instagram has added a few more social features to the platform, with Reels Replies being rolled out. Along with the Replies, anew feature is being tested that shows when two users are active together in the same chat.

Reels has been performing much better than perhaps even Instagram ever anticipated. The TikTok-inspired new video format (which officially claims to have absolutely no relation to the former) had some trouble really finding its footing initially. However, Reels has grown massively and while it may not be a source of the most direct competition to TikTok, it is indeed a worthy alternative.

Reels has grown to the point that it has a massive creator program attached to it, and the video format has even been migrated to Facebook with the goal of generating further user interest there. Naturally, with such a successful virtual goldmine on its hands, Instagram has been hard at work developing new features and interface updates for Reels, integrating it more and more seamlessly into the rest of the social media platform. Features such as Reels Replies are a major part of such attempts at integration.

Reels Visual Replies are essentially just what they sound like: A Reel that is being used to reply to someone. It’s a feature that’s been seen frequently across TikTok as well. Reel Replies essentially take a user’s comments, and reply to them in video format. The comment will then show up within the Reel itself as a text-box, taking up some amount of space, and showing both the user who issued said comment along with the text. The text-box is apparently adjustable, with users having the ability to move it around and change its size depending on where it obstructs one’s Reel the least.

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Overall, it’s a fun addition to the Reels format, even if the credit should be going to TikTok first. At any rate, it’s an example of Instagram really utilizing Reels’ social media capabilities, outside of just serving it up as a form of entertainment.

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Speaking of social media capabilities, a new feature might help alleviate one of the most common frustrations encountered across all such platforms. Isn’t it annoying when you see that a friend’s online, but isn’t replying to your chat? Sure, they’ve probably just put their phone down to run a quick errand, but there’s no way for you to know, right? Well, there sort of is now! Instagram is beta testing a new feature via which if both users are active within a chat, the platform will display that accordingly. It’s a work-around, sure, and one that’s currently being tested for usefulness, but it’s still a very nice, and even fresh, addition to the social media game.

Now, the active status will only appear when you are both active at the same time.#Instagram #instgramnewfeature@MattNavarra @instagram @alex193a pic.twitter.com/2chGZP9hr4

— Yash Joshi  (@MeYashjoshi) December 10, 2021

Read next: Instagram Plans On Allowing Users To Return To Its Old Chronologically Sorted News Feed

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5 apps for scheduling Instagram posts on iPhone and Android

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Alright, we get it. You’re an Instagram Nostradamus.

You know exactly what you want to post and when you’re gonna want to post it. Maybe there’s a meme or comment you want to make that you know will be totally relevant for a future moment or event. Or it could be that you’re an influencer and you want to make sure you keep a steady stream of content coming, so you want to schedule posts for times when you know you won’t be active (or won’t have internet access).

You’ll be happy to know there are apps that are specialized for just such situations. So listen up, InstaNostradamuses…Instagrostra…Instadam…Insta…uh…you guys (we’ll workshop it. No we won’t. We’ll probably just abandon that effort completely. You’re welcome) — these are the Instagram-post-scheduling apps for you.

While all of the iPhone apps below are free to download, they all have some in-app purchases.

1. Planoly

PLANOLY

We’ll start with “official partner” of Instagram, itself, Planoly — an Instaplanner that uses a grid to let you plan, schedule, and publish posts (as well as Reels) on Instagram. The app also lets you see post metrics and analytics so you can make sure your post didn’t flop.

Planoly is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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2. Buffer

BufferCredit: buffer / app store

Buffer is another Instagram post scheduler that helps you plan your posts and analyze feedback once they’re published. Use a calendar view to drag and drop posts into days/time slots for easy scheduling.

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Buffer is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

3. Preview

PreviewCredit: preview / app store

Preview offers typical post-scheduling tools and analytics along with a few helpful extras. Get caption ideas, recommendations for hashtags, and more.

Preview is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

4. Content Office

Content OfficeCredit: content office / app store

An Instagram post scheduler with a visual boost, Content Office allows users to plan and schedule Instagram posts while learning “marketing and visual guides to grow your brand on Instagram.” Like aesthetics and using visuals to create cohesive themes? Maybe this is the Instaplanner for you.

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Content Office is available for iOS on the Apple App Store.

5. Plann

PlannCredit: plann / apple store

You’ll never guess what “Plann” lets you do…

Aside from scheduling posts, get content ideas and recommendations, as well as strategy tips to ensure you’re maximizing your Instagram engagement. Ever wonder when the best time to post something is? Plann can offer you some help with that.

Plann is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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