Instagram is not a safe platform for minor users. The photo-sharing app has been found to be recommending drug dealers’ accounts to young users. The report by Tech Transparency Project has revealed that Instagram suggests drug-related hashtags to young users. The app has been found to be allowing teen users as young as 13 to find drugs in sale in just two clicks.
As per the report, TTP created fake accounts for teen users aged 13, 14, 15, and 17. It was found that the fake accounts were not stopped from searching drug-related content on the app. When a hypothetical under-aged user started typing “buyxanax” into the search bar, it showed a suggested dealer of Xanax.
“TTP created multiple Instagram accounts for minors between the ages of 13 and 17 and used them to test teen access to controlled substances on the platform. Not only did Instagram allow the hypothetical teens to easily search for age-restricted and illegal drugs, but the platform’s algorithms helped the underage accounts connect directly with drug dealers selling everything from opioids to party drugs,” the report said.
TTP in its investigation revealed that Instagram bans drug-related content such as #mdma, but it was found that when the teen user searched for #mdma, Instagram auto-filled alternative hashtags for the same drug into the search bar. Drug dealers sell drugs openly on Instagram and often their accounts have a mention of the drugs they are selling. Such accounts are meant to be hidden away from young users but in the recent findings, it was discovered that Instagram apparently doesn’t hide the hashtags. It was also found that when a teen user followed a drug dealer, Instagram started showing similar drug dealers in the suggested friend’s section.
“I would say Instagram is one of the worst places for exposure to this kind of content,” Tim Mackey, a professor at the University of California, San Diego and founder of S-3 said. Instagram has been time and again pulled up for exposing young users to harmful and obscene content on the app.