Instagram makes it easier for teens to find drugs
Instagram makes it easier for teens to find drugs

The Instagram algorithm recommends drug-trafficking accounts to underage users, according to a new report from the Technology Transparency Project.

The report found that the platform also recommends the use of drug-related hashtags. The Tech Transparency Project created seven fake accounts for teenage users aged 13, 14, 15 and 17.

The platform did not prevent these accounts from searching for drug-related content. In one case, the platform's auto-fill results are shown when users start typing Xanax purchases into the search bar. One of the recommended accounts is the Xanax trader.

The report found that a fake minor user received a message immediately after tracking Xanax merchant accounts with a list of products, prices, and shipping options. A fake micro account affiliated with a merchant on the platform received a suggestion to follow an Adderall sales account.

“I think Instagram is one of the worst places to get this kind of content,” said Tim McGee, a professor at the University of California, San Diego and founder of S-3, a company that tracks the sale of illegal drugs online.

Meta spokeswoman Stephanie Otway said in a statement that the platform banned the sale of drugs. We will continue to improve our efforts in this area to ensure the security of the platform, especially for younger members of the community. We will consider signals that violate the policy.

The report also found that the platform did not contribute to barriers to drug-related content. The platform prohibits the use of various drug-related hashtags. But when young fake users tried to find that day, the platform came up with an alternative.

This report was released while re-examining the impact of Instagram and Facebook on the physical and mental health of its teenage users.

In an open letter, a group of university researchers called for Meta to be more transparent in research into the mental health of its young users.

Instagram says it will ban the sale and purchase of drugs

After a Wall Street Journal report highlighted concerns that photo-sharing platforms might harm the mental health of young users, especially girls, Congress held a hearing on those platforms in October.

At those meetings, Senator Mike Lee referred to another report from the Tech Transparency Project that found that Facebook endorsed ads promoting drug abuse and anorexia.

Instagram President Adam Mosseri wants to testify before Congress at a hearing entitled "Protecting Children Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users."

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