Dealers are using disappearing messages on Snapchat and Instagram to peddle drugs to children as young as 12.
Social media platforms give dealers instant access to a growing group of children who they can sell drugs to “in seconds” leaving almost no evidence behind.
And as social media use is growing, younger people are now being drawn into using the platforms themselves to sell drugs – meeting up to do deals after lessons in their school uniforms.
A BBC investigation by Stacey Dooley found some dealers claim they are making thousands of pounds in just days selling drugs via Snapchat – a method that is fast and seen as relatively without consequence.
Young ‘digital dealers’ are also using the new GPS feature ‘SnapMaps’ to connect with users nearby.
Dealers now claim they are bringing in 75 per cent of their cash through selling on apps – with one saying they can make £26,000 in just two days by using younger people to sell drugs on social apps.
In the documentary Stacey asks a group of young boys about how they get drugs through social media, one admitting they know more than 50 dealers on Snapchat and Instagram alone.
She asks: “How long would it take for a dealer to come round and give you your drugs?”
One replies: “Seconds, straight to your door.”
And when asked why dealers are turning to social media, one responds: “’Cos the messages aren’t permanent.”
One in five 16 to 24-year-olds took illegal drugs last year, and the number of MDMA users has increased by 300,000 in the last year – giving dealers an increasing pool of customers.
Social media platforms make it easier for dealers to access children, and have encouraged teenagers to turn to the apps to peddle drugs themselves, some as young as 13 – often for people higher up the chain.
Yellow, a new app launched to connect more people on Snapchat and Instagram, is being abused as an almost directory – with dealers identifying themselves using emojis for cannabis, a needle and pills.
Arranging to meet a 15-year-old dealer for seven MDMA pills, Dooley discovers he has come straight from school and is still in his uniform to do the deal for £50.
He has told his mum he was playing football.
Identified only as Denver, Stacey arranged to meet him through Snapchat.
However, when Stacey identifies herself, Denver claims they are mints and painkillers.
Another 16-year-old who Stacey meets claims he can get whatever drugs she wants.
He says he started selling drugs when he was 13 and now makes about £2,000 a week peddling cannabis.
He has about half an hour until his next deal, and still lives at home with his mum.
Within an hour he is back on SnapChat advertising that he can sell more drugs.
In another investigation, Stacey visits a safe house where dealers are working – with a recent haul of heroin and cocaine spread throughout the property.
This group of men “sell and ship their products to America through olive oil bottles”- this way no one would know what’s inside because they turn the cocaine to liquid then back into solid once shipped.
They said most of their drugs will end up online, being sold by “younger people” below them in the chain who connect with users on social media.
While the men say they don’t give drugs to children directly, they admit they know they will end up in the hands of younger people by the people who use apps to deal drugs.
They show packages of heroin and cocaine, and display £26k worth of earnings – the result of just two days’ worth of dealing.
Responding to the investigation, SnapChat issued a statement: “Every single one of our policies prohibit the use of SnapChat for illegal activity.
“We have a dedicated team that work around the clock to enforce those policies and respond to requests from law enforcement.”
The social media company said they encouraged users to report drug dealing activity using the in-app tool.
A statement from Instagram also said they have an in-app tool to report any activity similar to that covered in the programme.
It said: “Buying or selling drugs is prohibited.”