Social Media Victims Law Center and C.A. Goldberg, PLLC amend Neville Complaint alleging Snap, Inc. knew for years that Snapchat was being used as an “open-air digital drug market”
The lawsuit alleges that media requests, law enforcement inquiries and communications with grieving parents show Snapchat did little to address drug sales on its social media application
LOS ANGELES – April 26, 2023 – The Social Media Victims Law Center, a legal resource for parents of children harmed by social media addiction and online abuse, together with C.A. Goldberg, PLLC, a New York law firm representing victims of catastrophic injuries caused by tech giants, have amended the Neville Complaint against Snap, Inc. (NYSE: SNAP) alleging that Snap executives were aware that Snapchat was being used to connect minors and young adults with drug dealers who were selling them deadly narcotics as early as 2017.
The amended Complaint, which was originally filed in October 2022 with the Superior Court of Los Angeles (Civil Action No. 22STCV33500), includes a timeline of communications between Snap, Inc. and media outlets, law enforcement officials, child safety groups and grieving parents who lost children who died of fentanyl poisoning after purchasing narcotics purchased from “Snapchat Drug Cartel.”
The lawsuit alleges that Snap, Inc. executives knew that Snapchat’s design and unique features, including disappearing messages, My Eyes Only and Snap Map features, among others, were creating an online safe haven for the sale of illegal narcotics but refused to make significant changes because of the financial impact it would have on the social media platform.
According to the lawsuit, Snap tried to ignore these issues until February of 2021, when Sammy Chapman, the 16-year-old son of high-profile media personality Dr. Laura Berman, died after being sold fentanyl contaminated drugs on Snapchat. By April of 2021, Snap had begun reaching out to parents, to the point of sending its executives to meet with grieving parents (behind closed doors and without legal counsel present) to convince them that they could not sue Snap itself.
“Snap and its leadership knowingly designed and distributed a product that provides tens of thousands of drug dealers with an untraceable and effective means to distribute illicit substances to our nation’s youth,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of the Social Media Victims Law Center. “Long before the fatal injuries giving rise to this lawsuit, Snap knew that its product features were being used by drug dealers to sell controlled substances to minors.”
The amended Neville Complaint also includes a clear timeline of activities and communications to and from Snap, Inc. executives that shows the social media company was fully aware of the danger their product posed in the sale of narcotics. Highlights of the timeline include:
- In 2017, BBC News reported on efforts to report drug dealer accounts to Snapchat and its failure to take down those accounts.
- In fall 2017, Fox news stations reported on Snapchat at least twice, including that “It may seem strange, but police say using Snapchat to buy and sell drugs is a trend these days.”
- By 2017, Snap leadership had actual knowledge that their product was being used as the ideal drug distribution vehicle to American youth and had already started giving counternarrative statements to the world press.
- In 2018, UK publication, The Sunday Telegraph, published an article titled “Middle-class drug dealers: the dark side of Snapchat,” discussing how a teen user was exposed to dealers on Snapchat and his mother’s attempts to protect him.
- In 2019, Snap was made aware of a study by Estel Farell-Roig, “Teens are turning to sites like Snapchat and Instagram to buy drugs.”
- In 2019, KUTV in Salt Lake City reported that children receive drug advertisements on Snapchat, sometimes daily, while dealers utilize Snapchat features like Snap Map and Quick Add to connect with and obtain unfettered and unsupervised access to children and stated that drug dealers use Snapchat more than other social media products.
- In November 2020, a current member of Snap’s Safety Advisory Board, Ed Ternan, referred to Snapchat as the most dangerous among social media products when it comes to American Youth, writing “…… SnapChat [sic] gives drug dealers easy, risk-free access to their target market. Its features make it THE IDEAL distribution channel for their drugs.”
- In 2021, the New York Times published stories announcing that the United States had recorded a record number of drug overdoses during a 12-month period (April 2020 to April 2021), attributing it to “stealthy, steady, and deadly” fentanyl sales and identifying Snapchat as “the platform that gets used the most as it provides anonymity, disappearing content, and doesn’t allow third-party monitoring.”
- In 2021, an NBC News investigation identified teen and young adult deaths in more than a dozen U.S. states traced back to the Snapchat product.
- On April 27, 2021, three Snap executives met by Zoom with a group of parents who lost their children to fentanyl poisoning after purchasing counterfeit drugs being distributed on Snapchat. One of the executives at the meeting was Snap VP of Global Safety, Jennifer Stout, who told the parents in attendance that Snap’s platform to sell drugs to teens was something Snap had only just learned about, and that Snap was not liable for the harms.
SMVLC and C.A. Goldberg PLLC filed the lawsuits on behalf of the families of Alexander Neville, 14, from San Diego, Calif.; Daniel Puerta, 16, from Santa Clarita, Calif.; Jeff Hernandez, 17, from Elk Grove, Calif.; Dylan Kai Sarantos, 18, from Los Angeles, Calif.; Devin Norring, 19, from Hastings, Minn.; Jack McCarthy, 19, from Birmingham, Mich.; Alexandra Capelouto, 20 from Temecula, Calif.; and Daniel (Elijah) Figueroa, 20, from Seal Beach, Calif., who all died after unknowingly taking fentanyl-laced pills sold by Snapchat drug dealers. It also includes 16-year-old A.B., who survived, continues to use the defective and inherently dangerous Snapchat product without her parents’ consent and is not named in court documents because she’s a minor.
Joining the amended Complaint are Dr. Laura Berman and Sam Chapman, who lost their 16-year-old son Sammy to fentanyl poisoning from a counterfeit pill purchased through a Snapchat Drug Dealer in February 2021.
On May 28, 2021, plaintiff Sam Chapman emailed Snap founder and CEO, Evan Spiegel. Sammy Chapman’s death had garnered significant public attention, so Spiegel agreed to speak with the Berman-Chapman family.
Chapman met with Spiegel on June 4, 2021 and told him that Snap was dangerous because of its lack of parental monitoring software and controls. Spiegel responded that it was an issue of user privacy, but Chapman responded that they were talking about children and that it was not the same. He said that a child’s privacy is up to the parents to regulate and includes things like how old and how mature the child is and that Snap was preventing parents from protecting their children. He told Spiegel that his company and his product were killing people.
They also discussed Snap’s slow response to law enforcement and lack of cooperation (including things like technical objections), in response to which the Snap CEO admitted that they could not keep up with the volume of law enforcement requests being received.
Also joining the lawsuit in the amended Complaint is Jessica Diacont from Waynesboro, Va. Jessica lost her son Jacob Robertson, 15, who died after taking counterfeit Percocet, which turned out to be fentanyl, he purchased from a drug dealer connected to him by Snapchat. The Complaint also alleges that Snap intentionally interfered with Diacont’s parental and custodial rights by providing her underaged son with access to the Snapchat social media platform without her knowledge or consent, a cause of action recognized in Virginia in 2012.
Over the last six months, SMVLC has filed six wrongful death lawsuits against Snap, Inc. on behalf of 64 individuals across 22 states who have died or suffered immeasurable harms because of Snapchat drug dealers and the rampant and open distribution activities taking place on Snapchat.
About the Social Media Victims Law Center
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), socialmediavictims.org, was founded in 2021 to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harm they inflict on vulnerable users. SMVLC seeks to apply principles of product liability to force social media companies to elevate consumer safety to the forefront of its economic analysis and design safer platforms to protect users from foreseeable harm.
About Matthew P. Bergman
Matthew P. Bergman is an attorney, law professor, philanthropist and community activist who has recovered over $1 billion on behalf of his clients. He is the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and Bergman Draper Oslund Udo law firm; a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School; and serves on the board of directors of nonprofit institutions in higher education, national security, civil rights, worker protection and the arts.
If your child or young family member has suffered from serious depression, chronic eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm, or suicide as a result of their social media use, speak to us today for a no-cost legal consultation.