In 2020, concerned that there didn’t appear to be much data on young people’s exposure to drugs through social media, the DSM Foundation ran a survey on this very subject. Nearly 1,000 responses later, the scale of the issue started to emerge: over 20 per cent of respondents said they’d seen illegal drugs (including prescription drugs such as Xanax) for sale on social media sites and apps… and these were 13-15 year olds, most of whom said they had never bought or used drugs.
A year later, the survey was repeated, but this time broadened out to 13-18 year olds. This time, there were nearly 2,000 respondents, and the picture seemed worse, with over a third saying they’d seen illegal drugs for sale on social media sites or apps. As was the case a year previously, Snapchat was head and shoulders above other platforms, with Instagram and TikTok next, and cannabis seemed to be the most commonly advertised drug. Only 18 per cent said they’d told a parent about what they’d seen, and less than 5 per cent of those had reported it to the platform – citing a multitude of reasons but most commonly that they felt it wouldn’t make any difference – despite nearly three quarters saying they felt social media companies needed to take action.
Now this work is being done once more, this time under the auspices of University College London and in conjunction with the Alcohol Education Trust. Getting as many young people to complete the short questionnaire will enable a clearer picture to emerge, of the current context, but also how things have changed. With the DSM Foundation working directly with the three main social media providers on an ongoing basis (Meta, Snap and Tiktok) as well as government and Ofcom, this work has the potential to make significant changes.
The survey is at https://qualtrics.ucl.ac.uk/jfe/form/SV_8APEqLscnhwKgEC (with supporting documents attached here) and the deadline for responses is 30th April 2024.