Instagram is endangering teens —by providing a pipeline to illicit drugs such as Xanax and MDMA, according to a newly published report from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP).
The social media platform allows teen users as young as 13 to find potentially deadly drugs for sale in just two clicks, according to a TTP investigation, that adds to mounting questions about the dangers the platform poses to children.
TTP, in its investigation, created a series of fake accounts to test the safeguards Instagram has in place to protect teenagers from illicit drugs.
The investigation found that it only took two clicks for a hypothetical teen to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax. In contrast, the research company notes that it took more than double the number of clicks, five—for the teen to log out of Instagram.
While drug-related hashtags like #mdma (for the party drug ecstasy) are banned on the platform, but if the teen user searched for terms like “mdmamolly”, referred to people who sell the substance, then the app’s search algorithm made it easy to find those hashtags, with its autocomplete feature pointing researchers in the right direction.
Further, when a teen account followed a drug dealer on Instagram, the platform started recommending other accounts selling drugs. Shockingly, drug dealers operate “openly on Instagram, offering people of any age a variety of pills, including the opioid Oxycontin. Many of these dealers mention drugs directly in their account names to advertise their services,” the company pointed out.
This development comes at a time when Instagram’s chief executive Adam Mosseri set to testify before a senate panel this week about the platform’s harms to children.
Interestingly, TTP’s investigation involved setting up seven teen accounts: one for a 13-year-old, two for 14-year-olds, two for 15-year-olds, and two for 17-year-olds.
The accounts contained no profile photos or information and posted none of their own content. Some of the accounts used the names of fictional characters from popular television shows, like Lisa Simpson from “The Simpsons,” and Michael Scarn, a personality of character Michael Scott on “The Office.”
It should be noted that Instagram’s Community Guidelines prohibits the “buying or selling non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs. ”
Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Instagram parent company Meta, said in a statement to NBC News that the platform prohibits drug sales. “We’ll continue to improve in this area in our ongoing efforts to keep Instagram safe, particularly for our youngest community members.”
Meanwhile, the platform, now part of Facebook parent company Meta, has faced criticism and scrutiny over its impact on the mental health of young people following revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
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