CBC NEWS: Facebook Messenger being used to deal drugs

Daniel Tobok
E: [email protected]
Posted on: March 20, 2019

While some Winnipeggers may have been shocked to learn of people scoring drugs on Facebook, a cyber security expert says it’s not only common, it’s a growing problem.

Daniel Tobok, who runs Cypfer Inc. out of Toronto, says there are no statistics to show the volume of drugs being sold online but it’s getting “bigger and bigger.”

“Last time I heard, through Facebook it’s roughly a $100-million-plus industry,” he said.

On Monday, CBC News took a look inside two group Messenger conversations titled “Wpg drug mart” and “ChOp ShOp,” where people buy and sell whatever drugs they can get including fentanyl and crack cocaine.

“The problem is, in a way, it’s completely anonymous,” Tobok said.

“In order to get into those groups you have to be invited. They have to vet you and then you gain access.”

But once the access is granted a virtual flea market of drugs opens up. Tobok said after a couple of online drug busts internationally in 2014 and 2015, the people running the groups got better at masking their identification and locations.

Even when the online drug dens are shuttered, Tobok said it’s never for long.

“This is kind of one of the problems with the virtual stores, when there’s brick and mortar and the police raid them and close them down, it does take some time for them to resurrect and rent another facility,” Tobok said.

“In the virtual world when [police] shut them down, unfortunately they already have about 10 lined up they just need to flick the switch on.”

It’s difficult to find out who is really behind the keyboard of drug-sales groups, says Daniel Tobok, who runs Cypfer Inc. out of Toronto. (CBC)

That means law enforcement tackling the problem has to sift through the approximately 1.79 billion monthly active users on Facebook. Other tactics for law enforcement, including impersonation or setting up a store, show a bit more success but Tobok said it’s not enough to really curb the online ordering.

“It’s about casting big nets out there and seeing what’s going to come in,” he said.

The “cat and mouse” chase is also complicated by the anonymity of online activities. Not only do police need to locate the groups where drugs are being sold, they also need to prove who is behind the keyboard.

Previously, a Facebook spokesman told CBC News the social networking site investigates any reports of illegal activity. Facebook’s policy, he said, is clear:

“We prohibit the use of Facebook to facilitate or organize criminal activity that causes physical harm to people, businesses or animals, or financial damage to people or businesses. We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. We also refer information to law enforcement whenever disclosure is we believe it is necessary to prevent harm.”

Daniel Tobok
Daniel Tobok, a cyber security expert, says the sale of drugs through social media is a growing problem. (CBC)

That’s a great place to start, said Tobok, but the unfortunate part is “they don’t want to spend too much time and resources to actually enforce it.”

“The problem is with a lot of corporations they will do what are called the minimum level of what they are required by law and only a few of them will be extremely proactive,” he said.

“It’s about getting the bar a little higher, kicking it up a notch, actually having them take more responsibility and being proactive.”

Tobok said he would like to see legislation that holds social media corporations accountable for safeguarding the information shared and activities that happen within their applications. Until social media companies start acting proactively, it will continue to be a drain on law enforcement resources, he added.

“Facebook is a little planet. If you look at it’s one of the biggest countries in the world with 1.7 billion citizens. That’s a lot of people to go through, check out and analyze,” he said.

“It requires a little bit of its own legislation internally and externally to help with this.”