It seems that teens finding and buying drugs online, especially over Instagram, turned to be easy, a new report from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) revealed on Tuesday.
The report said that TTP created fake Instagram accounts of minors aged between 13 and 17 and found that it took “only two clicks to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax, while Instagram did not stop those accounts from searching for drug-related content.
For example, the platform auto-filled results when a user started typing “buyxanax” into the search bar to have one suggested account, which is a Xanax dealer.
This is easy even if Instagram bans hashtags like #mdma that would show results for hashtags related to MDMA if written in the search bar. Instagram shows related hashtags or accounts to what you type in the search bar. It looks like this is easy to bypass, even for drugs on the platform.
“We prohibit drug sales on Instagram. We removed 1.8 million pieces of content related to drug sales in the last quarter alone, and due to our improving detection technology, the prevalence of such content is about 0.05 percent of content viewed, or about five views per every 10,000,” Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Meta, told Engadget.
“We’ll continue to improve in this area in our ongoing efforts to keep Instagram safe, particularly for our youngest community members,” she stressed.
On the other hand, and after following the account of a Xanax dealer, a fake minor user got a direct message “with a menu of products, prices, and shipping options,” the report revealed. A fake minor’s account that followed an Instagram dealer got suggestions to follow an account selling Adderall.
“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, a company that tracks illegal drug sales online, noted.
Instagram has been repeatedly found to be harmful to teenagers, while Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen also revealed Instagram is worse for teenagers than any other social media app.
As such, a recent report by the Wall Street Journal showed how Facebook had previous information that Instagram was harmful to teens. TTP’s investigation highlights that Instagram is not doing enough to prevent teens from harmful content and activities like buying drugs on the platform.