On Tuesday, Facebook, a company that has recently pivoted from pandering to conservative propagandists to ham-fisted displays of civic engagement, announced it would be working with the New Mexico Attorney General to do.... something about the state’s devastating opioid problem.
According to the AP, the new, more benevolent social network invoked Facebook groups such as “Facing Addiction”—a non-profit-affiliated resource that, in addition to offering a platform for addicts and their families to post in multiple support groups, directs people struggling with addiction to rehab programs—as an example of how the company can “use its digital tools to combat addiction.”
Facebook’s head of community engagement for the Southwest also said it would add 10,000 more security staff to combat fake news and stop people advertising drug sales on the site, and hold a training—presumably about the platform’s revolutionary ability to combat addiction—for health professionals.
Coincidentally, the announcement came a day after Wired published a long, scathing account of the company’s last few years, portraying Facebook as “confused” and “defensive” when it came to acknowledging its unprecedented political power.
Perhaps Facebook is genuinely interested in using online support groups—which are dubious stand-ins for rehabilitative addiction treatments and in-person counseling—to ensure thousands of people stay alive in New Mexico. (As the AP wrote, the state’s drug overdose death rate is around 25 out of 100,000 residents, about five points higher than the national average.) Posting about addiction on Facebook is certainly more effective than, say, letting cops take the babies of addicts away, another celebrated tactic in New Mexico. But it could also be that, as Facebook begins a massive expansion of a data center in the state, it’s adding to a long history of corporations sloppily trading on real people’s anguish for a much-needed PR bump. After all, opioid addiction is an extremely trending topic right now.