Leveraging the power of Twitter to combat the opioid crisis

By Lauren Culbertson
Tuesday, 23 April 2019

At Twitter, we put the people who use our service first in every step we take. The safety and security of the people who use Twitter is our top priority. Over the past year, we’ve utilized the power of our service to help prevent drug misuse, curb illegal online drug sales, and promote public health information. Most importantly, we’ve been working to champion those who use Twitter to build a thriving #RecoveryMovement.

In 2017 alone, 70,237 people in the United States died from drug overdoses. Nearly 70 percent of those deaths involved opioids, surpassing the number of deaths resulting from traffic accidents. Last year, US government leaders invited Twitter to collaborate on efforts to help combat the #OpioidCrisis. Twitter is committed to leveraging our resources and tools to help meet this important challenge.

DEA #TakeBackDay
Twitter is once again partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) for its Take Back Day, a biannual campaign that encourages Americans to dispose of their prescription drugs at a local drop-off site in order to prevent drug misuse. The next #TakeBackDay in the United States is on April 27.

Twitter has re-launched a custom emoji for #TakeBackDay and is coordinating with congressional leaders and Administration officials to raise awareness for this event on the platform. Last year, launching the custom #TakeBackDay emoji and the corresponding hashtags helped to elevate the conversation with 50x the engagement compared to previous years. In fall 2018, #TakeBackDay Tweets garnered more than 1 million impressions with the help of high-profile Tweets, including one from the First Lady of the United States.

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Working to prevent drug sales online
We remove any Tweets offering to sell opioids and regulated drugs. We’ve ramped up the use of our anti-spam tools, deployed new, targeted technologies around this issue, and implemented additional internal processes to enforce the Twitter Rules regarding drug-related content.

To inform our efforts, we’ve consulted expert researchers from leading institutions, government officials, and law enforcement entities. This work has resulted in the removal of more than 17,000 Tweets globally since mid-2018 for violating our rules related to illegal and regulated drug sales — included in that figure is attempted credit card scams and diet pill sales, as well as related spammy behaviors.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be updating our rules so they’re shorter, simpler, and easier to understand. Included in that effort will be additional clarity regarding how we treat the sale of illegal and regulated drugs on Twitter.

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Harvard, 2.5 million US adults in recovery report recovery-related use of online technology and that interventions leveraging online technologies have enhanced outcomes for these individuals.

We’ve developed strong partnerships with recovery researchers from leading academic institutions and advocates to shape our product and policy work. To support the people who are active in the #RecoveryMovement online, we’ve held events and supported on-platform engagement, including donating pro bono advertising awards through our #AdsForGood program. We invite government leaders, NGOs, advocates, and people in recovery to join us in celebrating #RecoveryMonth in September on Twitter.

Collaboration to promote public health
We’ve hosted events at Twitter's DC office with guests including the US Surgeon General, members of Congress, Young People in Recovery President and CEO Justin Luke Riley, and Substance Use Disorders Institute Recovery Scientist Robert Ashford to discuss the opioid crisis and #RecoveryMovement.

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Last year, Twitter participated in the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Online Opioid Summit in which we committed to taking stronger action against the availability of illegal online drug sales. We provided an update on our progress at a follow-up event at the FDA earlier this month.

Nonprofits help to share public health information, conduct important research and create communities of support, oftentimes through online services. To support their efforts, we’ve conducted best practices training with organizations like Lily’s Place and The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to enhance their effectiveness on Twitter.

In November 2018, Twitter co-hosted an event with industry peers and The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies featuring Dopesick author Beth Macy and representatives from the National Institutes of Health. We also participated in a panel discussing how the tech industry can continue to combat the opioid crisis.

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In San Francisco, we’re teaming up with the Saint Francis Foundation, the Harm Reduction Coalition, GLIDE, the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, and Gubbio Project — organizations that are all working toward a multifaceted approach to address the crisis. This year, we’re also keynoting Young People in Recovery’s 2019 conference and will provide training for the organization’s chapter leaders across the country.

Our commitment continues
We will continue to invest in tools and technology to improve the health of the conversation on Twitter, as well as build on our efforts with outside partners to ensure Twitter doing its part to help those with substance use disorders connect to recovery communities.

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Lauren Culbertson


Public Policy

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