Would you know what it meant if you saw a snowflake emoji in your child’s social media profile?
Neither did Stacey Dooley – until she uncovered the shocking world of digital drug dealing in her new BBC Three documentary, Kids Selling Drugs Online, and found that school-age children are buying illegal substances on apps including Snapchat, Instagram and Yellow.
The emoji code allows sellers to advertise their wares in their profiles, using emojis such as the pill, maple leaf, needle and more to indicate which drug they have available. It is thought that the lightning bolt, for instance, could indicate ecstasy, whilst snowflakes are said to be a reference to cocaine.
After setting up a profile pretending to be a teen herself, Stacey manages to get in touch with Denver, who arrives in his school uniform, but says that he can sell her several MDMA pills. When she confronts him, he claims that the tablets he’s brought with him are only ‘mints’ and ‘painkillers’, saying: ‘I just wanted the money.’
However, another 16-year-old dealer who Stacey meets, who calls himself Tai, admits he regularly makes £300 a day selling drugs through social media, revealing that the cash is ‘addictive’.
When she presses him about his usual customers, he appears to have no qualms about selling drugs to other children: ‘I’m a kid so kids know me, and kids that do their thing do their thing. So kids come to me to get their thing,’ he explains.
‘So when I’m grown up I’m not gonna be selling to little kids, but I am a little kid and I sell these things and all these people that want it they gonna come. It’s not my fault that they want it.’
During the show, Stacey also interviews one of Britain’s most notorious drug gangs, who supply huge quantities of drugs across the country, and show her how they prepare it for distribution, estimating that about ‘75% of the takings’ come from online transactions.
‘It’s the younger generation’s game now, it’s the kids on the Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram,’ they say.
Snapchat, Yellow and Instagram all said that they would encourage users to report content that breached their policies, but after reporting several users she felt were promoting inappropriate material, Stacey found that 72 hours later, their profiles were still active.
‘I fear is it is going to take something very tragic to happen to these kids before Yellow, Instagram and Snapchat wake up and take action,’ she concludes. ‘Until then it will continue to be a drug dealers’ paradise.’
Drugs advice charity Frank advises any parent who may be concerned about their child to ‘stay calm and open-minded’.
‘Getting too intense will put pressure on your child, so encourage a relaxed conversation, starting with questions about the ‘bigger picture’.’ they advise.
‘Try to find out how things are going outside of home, with their friends, at school, etc. Make sure to ask questions that won’t result in one-word answers; this way, the conversation will be much more likely to flow. Listen to what your child says and try to ensure a two-way conversation.’
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‘Remember that there are different reasons why people take drugs. For your child, it may be as simple as, ‘to have fun’. The drugs might make your child feel relaxed, sociable and full of energy, and this may be a phase that they are going through. It’s important to explain that some drugs are illegal and can affect their physical and mental health, and to let them know that while you may not approve, they can always talk to you about any worries they may have.’
Stacey Dooley Investigates: Kids Selling Drugs Online is available to view now on BBC iPlayer