May 20, 2021

How Online Drug Dealers Exploit Social Media Algorithms

In an article for The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Faegre Drinker Consulting director Sarah-Lloyd Stevenson, manager Jillian Brady and advisor Nisha Quasba discuss the dangers of online drug dealers exploiting social media algorithms to sell counterfeit and potentially deadly products. 

The authors describe how the convenience of internet shopping attracts many young buyers to turn to social media and internet platforms, not only to buy ordinary goods but also medications. This is especially concerning as the world grows increasingly reliant on the internet for access to health care and public health information.

“What some fail to recognize – especially young adults – is that is that most social media platforms are designed to keep users engaged by pushing content they believe the individual wants based on their activity on the platform. The algorithmic system that tracks users’ every move uses each click, search, like, and friend request to create a personalized feed for every user … For every click or search a user makes on their own, the algorithm spits back out recommended content based on assumptions of what other content is likely to entice the user to stay engaged. In this way, these algorithms are not designed to satisfy the user’s search; they are designed to keep users searching for more,” the authors explain.

While social media companies have pledged to do better at preventing their platforms from becoming conduits of dangerous misinformation and criminal activity, including the sale of drugs, the article urges social media companies to implement more safety measures to ensure their platforms do not become vehicles for the illegal sale of medications to unsuspecting consumers.

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