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Instagram makes it easy for teens to find drugs, new report says

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Instagram, a photo-sharing platform owned by Meta, says it prohibits the purchase and sale of drugs. A new report, however, claims that minor users had access to a variety of pharmaceuticals on the platform.

According to a report by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), Instagram platform allows teens as young as 13 to find potentially lethal drugs for sale in just two clicks.

TTP set up multiple Instagram accounts for minors aged 13 to 17 and used them to test teen access to controlled substances on the platform.

Instagram not only allowed the fictitious teens to easily search for age-restricted and illegal drugs, but the platform’s algorithms also assisted the underage accounts in connecting directly with drug dealers selling everything from opioids to party drugs, according to the report.

When a hypothetical teen user logged into the Instagram app, it only took two clicks to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax, according to the investigation. In comparison, it took the teen more than double the number of clicks – five – to log out of Instagram.

According to the report, Instagram prohibits the use of certain drug-related hashtags, such as #mdma (for the party drug ecstasy), but if the teen user searched for #mdma, Instagram auto-filled alternative hashtags for the same drug into the search bar.

When a teen account followed a drug dealer on Instagram, the platform began recommending other accounts selling drugs, highlighting how the company’s algorithms attempt to keep young people engaged despite potentially harmful content.

The photo-sharing platform has recently faced backlash after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal company research indicating Instagram’s negative impact on teenagers. Following that, the platform added a ‘Take a Break’ feature as well as other safety features for teenagers.


About the author

Brendan Byrne

While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala.

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