Meta-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram says it prohibits buying and selling of drugs. However, a new report suggests that minor users had access to a range of pharmaceuticals on the platform.
According to a Tech Transparency Project (TTP) report, the platform allows teen users as young as 13 to find potentially deadly drugs for sale in just two clicks.
TTP created multiple Instagram accounted for minors between the ages of 13 and 17 and used them to test teen access to controlled substances on the platform.
Instagram allowed the hypothetical teens to easily search for age-restricted and illegal drugs, and the platform’s algorithms helped the underage accounts connect directly with drug dealers selling everything from opioids to party drugs, the report said.
The investigation found that when a hypothetical teen user logged into the Instagram app, it only took two clicks to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax. In contrast, it took more than double the number of clicks — five — for the teen to log out of Instagram.
The report also mentioned that Instagram bans some drug-related hashtags like #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 started recommending other accounts selling drugs, highlighting how the company’s algorithms try to keep young people engaged regardless of dangerous content.
Recently, the photo-sharing platform has received backlash after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal company research suggesting Instagram’s negative effect on teenagers. Post that, the platform launched a ‘Take a Break’ and other safety features for teenagers.