Investigation finds it takes only two clicks for teens to find drugs on Instagram

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Investigation finds it takes only two clicks for teens to find drugs on Instagram
The investigation also found that if a teen user starts following an account of a drug dealer, Instagram’s algorithm starts recommending other drug dealers.Unsplash
  • A new investigation found that teen users can easily find drugs on the platform.
  • There’s not much to do as Instagram’s algorithm further helps in recommending similar drug dealer accounts.
  • This is despite having banned hashtags for drugs on the platform.
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It’s not that difficult for teenagers to find and buy drugs on Instagram, a new report from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) has revealed. According to an investigation conducted by this organisation, it was quite easy to find drugs from fake accounts of teens as young as 13. And the problematic part is how Instagram’s content regulations can be easily bypassed, and how its algorithm actually makes it worse.

TTP created fake Instagram accounts of minors aged between 13 and 17 and found that it took “only two clicks to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax.” This is quite easy even if Instagram bans hashtags like #mdma. For example, typing mdma in the search bar would show results for hashtags related to mdma. Instagram shows related hashtags or accounts to what you type in the search bar. It looks like this is easy to bypass even for drugs on the platform.

The investigation also found that if a teen user starts following an account of a drug dealer, Instagram’s algorithm starts recommending other drug dealers. There are actually quite a number of drug dealer accounts on Instagram and they even have drugs mentioned directly in their account.

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There’s not much a teen user needs to do to find drugs on Instagram. In one instance, before the teen user (TTP) could finish typing “buyxanax” in the search bar, Instagram started auto-filling results and suggested accounts of drug dealers.

TTP also submitted 50 posts to Instagram for review and out of which 36 of them were found not violating the platform’s Community Guidelines. But TTP argued that these posts had clear evidence of drug dealing. Instagram also banned only one account flagged by TTP but that profile was still up on the platform.

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Instagram has been repeatedly found to be harmful for teenagers. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen had also revealed Instagram is worse for teenagers than any other social media app. A recent report by the Wall Street Journal also showed how Facebook knew that Instagram was harmful to teens. TTP’s investigation further adds to these reports that Instagram is not doing enough to prevent teens from harmful content and activities like buying drugs on the platform.

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