In a new documentary, presenter Stacey Dooley meets the drug dealers making easy money from social media
Thought that maple leaf emoji (?) was just a maple leaf? Think again. It’s actually the universal code for weed, alongside a whole host of other emoji symbols used by teens as young as 13 to sell drugs online (? = cocaine, ? = ecstasy).
An investigation by Stacey Dooley, now available on BBC Three, reveals how social media is fuelling a new type of drug dealing – one characterised by coded emojis, teen drug dealers, and vast amounts of money.
Stacey Dooley Investigates: Kids Selling Drugs Online, discovered a ‘drug language that’s reliant on emoji symbols,’ to sell drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, pills and even heroin. Out on the streets, teenage dealers can make £300 a day from selling drugs (that’s much more than your average minimum wage job in the local supermarket), by posting images and videos on apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and Yellow, to advertise their goods.
Gang members in the upper ranks can make £26,000 in just two days by relying on teenagers selling drugs in this method. One gang member claimed that around 75% of his takings come from deals advertised online.
Tai, a sixteen-year-old dealer, (not his real name), told Stacey Dooley that ‘the money is addictive. When I’m grown up I’m not going to be selling to little kids… but I am a little kid and I sell these things. And all these people that want it, they’re going to come. It’s not my fault that they want [drugs].’
The investigators found that Snapchat appeared to be the preferred method of advertising, thanks to its untraceable nature.When questioned, all the apps said that users should report illegal content to their safeguarding teams.
A spokesperson for Snapchat says: ‘Every single one of our policies prohibit the use of Snapchat for illegal activity. We have dedicated teams that work around the clock to enforce those policies and to respond to requests from law enforcement. We encourage all Snapchatters to report anything to us that doesn’t belong on Snapchat, including by using our new in-app reporting tools.’
However 72 hours after the investigators reported users selling drugs, their accounts were still active on the platforms.
Stacey Dooley says: ‘I fear it is going to take something very tragic to happen to these kids before Yellow [dubbed ‘Tinder for teens’] Instagram and Snapchat wake up and take action. Until then it will continue to be a drug dealers’ paradise.’