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Goodies, promotions, delivery… When cannabis dealers advertise on social networks

Goodies, promotions, delivery… When cannabis dealers advertise on social networks

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In five minutes and three messages, the deal is done. As easily as if it had been a question of ordering a pizza, Leslie*, without moving from her sofa, has just bought 5 grams of cannabis, which she will have delivered to her home, in the evening, for around fifty euros. For this Parisian, there is no longer any question of hanging around in certain areas of the city or contacting dubious numbers: for three years, she has been making her “purchases” directly via Snapchat or WhatsApp. “You receive photos of very well presented products, you see the quantity, the origin, it’s reassuring. Then you choose what makes you want the most, and we deliver it to you directly at the bottom of the building”, explains the young lady.

An easy transaction, mostly untraceable. Encrypted messaging applications, such as WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram allow him to chat, without fear that the content of his order will be “trace”, while on Snapchat the messages and photos exchanged disappear after a few seconds. “Once I sent in my request, there’s no record of anything,” Leslie sums up. So much so that around her the “good plan” was quickly shared. “In business school, four years ago, everyone used Snapchat to get drugs. It’s been known for years,” she says. Practice far from being recent therefore, but which would have greatly accelerated during confinement.

Home delivery

“While users were stuck at home, the delivery of narcotics to homes has become widespread. Social networks have become the preferred means of communication for traffickers,” says Stanislas Gaudon, general delegate of the National Police Alliance union. “They benefit from total anonymity and an impossible moderation of content which allows them to cover their tracks very easily”, he adds. On Twitter, the dealers no longer even hide: by typing the appropriate hashtag – such as “weed” or “beuh”, accompanied by the name of any French city – Internet users can find in a few seconds a direct link to Snapchat accounts offering sales of cannabis.

Limited offer. 2 months for 1€ without commitment

Home delivery”; “Pure quality”; “Available in several localities”, are messages posted by anonymous accounts; photos and “menus” of various varieties, in support. “To put it simply, Twitter has become a street where the dealers pass their advertising flyers and Snapchat is like the back room where the transactions are negotiated”, describes Steve Bonet, consulting director at Atchik, a Toulouse-based content moderation company on social networks. Once the order has been placed, the deal is made in cash on delivery or via online payment platforms.

If the weight of these social networks in cannabis trafficking remains extremely difficult to quantify, Steve Bonet says he is surprised at the speed at which these messages have “swarmed” on the Internet in recent months. From mid-June to mid-July 2021, he counted 63,000 uses of the word “beuh” on Twitter, and no less than 23,000 “#beuh” hashtags. “When there is the hashtag, we can easily deduce that it is to indicate the promotion of traffic”, he believes, worrying about the impressive extent of the phenomenon, especially in provincial towns. .

Goodies and promotions

Faced with this new competition, the traffickers of the old school see themselves obliged to innovate. On Twitter, the transparent plastic bags that wrapped the grams of weed or weed have given way to packaging with studied marketing, with the effigy of football clubs or video game characters, via ultra-fast cans. -design or even parodies of Haribo candy bags. Goodies, promotions and regular reminders… Dealers have also learned to retain their customers. “We have seen raffle tickets in cannabis packages – to win a PlayStation – or loyalty cards offering free delivery after 10 orders”, says Yann Bastière, national investigation delegate of the SGP Police Unit union.

Clément Gérome, sociologist in charge of studies at the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction, think that the influence of this marketing remains weak for those who experiment with cannabis, but that it is different for more regular users. “By being relaunched in this way every week, with such easy delivery and ever more advanced loyalty techniques, a user who tries to drop out can only be tempted”, he underlines. Especially since, according to the sociologist, customer numbers are now resold between trafficking networks, from 50 cents to 2 euros each.

Specialized agents

The police are trying to give themselves the means to act in a meaningful way. Since January 1, 2020, the Anti-Narcotics Office (Ofast) has assured L’Express of recruiting and training more and more agents specializing in cyberinfiltration and digital monitoring, and working on “new methods of investigation”. “But, for the moment, it is true that we have too few trained staff,” admits Stéphanie Cherbonnier, head of Ofast. “As in the street, we cannot place an agent behind each trafficker or user,” she continues.

“Controlling cannabis trafficking on social networks is almost impossible today,” insists Yann Bastière. The trade unionist judges that, in most cases, “the game is not worth the candle”. “The flow of this prohibited trade is too great, the platforms too protected,” he laments. “It would be up to the social networks themselves to react, but they don’t do it proactively for these subjects,” notes Steve Bonet.

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Contacted, the platforms are nevertheless categorical. All recall the ban on using their networks for illegal purposes, under penalty of permanent suspension of the accounts concerned. “If an account is dedicated to the sale of illegal or regulated goods and/or services, [il] can be permanently suspended”, slice Twitter, while Snapchat recalls its “zero tolerance” against the use of the application for illicit purposes. Unsatisfactory answers for the police unions. “If we do not want this traffic to abound, we will have to force these platforms to cooperate more actively”, slice Yann Bastière. But here, we are entering into a more political commitment.

*Name has been changed.


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