Disappearing messages. Who might want that?
Staff Snap Lord
In the sentence after this one, I’m just going to define Snapchat in the simplest terms I can think of. Snapchat: a messaging app that allows users to share self-deleting captioned photos and videos, both privately and among discrete, one-way networks. Now, who do you think might want to use such an app?
Not that selling drugs on social media is anything new. Just look at group chats, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and whatever else college students use and you’ll see people pimping out their prescriptions like it was legal. Facebook Messenger even has a built-in function for sending and receiving payments. But usually drug sales on these platforms are one-offs, conducted by people trying to get rid of their excess anxiety medications, or selling Adderall to desperate acquaintances during midterms. Of all the apps out there, only one is the marketing tool of choice for full-time drug dealers.
Which, as I’ve suggested, is no big surprise. Snapchat is really convenient if you’re trying to run an illegal business. In a lot of ways, Snapchat seems like it was made for buying and selling drugs. Dealers can advertise all of their products to all of their customers at the same time. Just post pictures. Then, wait for the private messages to roll in for individual orders. These one-on-one messages, which, in this context, include setting a time and place for the actual sale, disappear much faster than images posted in the story. In other words, there is no record of the specific transaction between vendor and customer. Besides, it’s pretty hard to get caught so long as you have the common sense to use an alias and to not post any pictures of yourself.
Snapchat may not be particularly secure, it may not even be that hard to hack into, but, if one were to do it, that would be illegally obtained information, and police would still have to get a warrant to raid specific accounts. All one has to do is maintain a certain level of suspicion of any new and unfamiliar customers. Grownups haven’t found out about Snapchat yet. Shit, it’s hard enough just to find your friends on Snapchat without getting their handle from them directly. The only way to meet a Snapchat drug dealer is to get their account name from one of your friends.
On the other end of the exchange, customers have a fully stacked menu at their fingertips to peruse at leisure. The dealer stories I’ve seen uniformly consist of pictures, one after the other, of weed, each labeled with a different strain name and captioned with quantities available for purchase (1/8 of an ounce to an entire pound), with corresponding prices. And it’s not just weed. Along with additional paraphernalia (vape cartridges, dabs, edibles), one could buy just about anything on Snapchat from cocaine to LSD to prescription pills.
There are already a lot of sensational stories about drugs and Snapchat, from cautionary tales about the dangers of so-called “Snapchat pills” to misguided writings about how emojis can be made to represent specific drugs. I say misguided because, in my experience, people don’t really use these codes because they don’t need them. Really, this is all just another consequence of opening the Pandora’s Box of social media. Perhaps it was unpredictable, but just as surely as cameras begat porn, people were always going to use Snapchat as a platform from which to start their small businesses. In buying drugs it is the same as before; it has just lost a lot of the tedium and permanence of phone contacts and messages.
Drug dealing has always generated these sorts of covert, often symbolic, languages. To me, Snapchat just seems like the next evolutionary step in this kind of communication, of which there’s a long tradition. Urban Dictionary will gladly tell you that a pair of shoes tied together and slung over a telephone wire signals a meeting place for drug deals. High school health teachers will tell you that this mixed need for advertising and secrecy is why illegal drugs tend to have so many superlative nicknames. You could even include those unscrupulous doctors who will write an opiate prescription for complaints of “back pains” or those frauds who marketed amphetamines as “diet pills.” I don’t mean to promote any of these things. Many of them I actively disapprove of. This is all just to say that when you make something illegal, people will get it where they can find it.