Sky News outs prescription drugs on Facebook

20 Jul 2017

No sooner had Facebook Marketplace launched last year, then there were reports of fraudulent items being sold, scammers trolling customers and robberies reminiscent of Craigslist. So no-one was really surprised when Sky News reported this week that “powerful and addictive prescription drugs are illegally being offered for sale on Facebook”.

Nobody, except for Sky News perhaps.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the U.K. told Sky News that the availability of sedatives, tranquilizers, and opioids on the platform “completely changes the game”.

Sky News contacted Facebook about the offending drugs for sale. Facebook responded with a statement:

Buying, selling, or trading prescription drugs isn’t allowed on Facebook and we urge people to use our reporting tools if they come across this kind of activity, so we can investigate and take swift action. We’re grateful to Sky News for flagging this content to us and have removed the pages for breaking our standards.

Facebook removed the pages selling the meds, but a few days later, Sky checked again and found more. Sky News went so far as to speak with one drug dealer who has been sending drug deliveries to the U.K. from Cameroon for “three to four years”, he said.

Has he ever been in trouble with Facebook? Sky asked.

“No, no,” he replied.

Does Facebook care? “No.”

The types of drugs Sky News found during its Facebook searching include Ketamine, cannabis, MDMA, sleeping tablets, and a variety of diazepam and benzo-diazepam products.

Earlier this year, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee in the U.K., MP Yvette Cooper, said: “Social media companies’ failure to deal with illegal and dangerous material online is a disgrace.”

The Sky News report didn’t specify whether the illegal drugs were on Facebook Marketplace or Facebook proper, but even if it’s the latter, Marketplace won’t be immune — if anything, the contrary.

Sky’s alarming report makes for good headlines, but as Facebook — and every online classifieds player — knows, staying ahead of the bad guys is never easy (or even possible).

That said, Facebook encourages users to flag illegal or inappropriate content using Facebook’s support tools, as the cat and mouse game continues.

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Brian Blum

Brian Blum covers the U.S., Canada and Israel for Classified Intelligence Report, and contributes to our special reports and research projects. Originally from San Francisco and now based in Jerusalem, he has been with the AIM Group since 2004. He is the president of Blum Interactive Media, specializing in writing and multimedia content development for online, print, video and audio. His clients include newspapers, universities and non-profits. He is currently working on a book about the billion-dollar bankruptcy of a once high-flying Israeli startup.