An alarming new study reveals how easy it is to buy drugs on Instagram. In addition to leaving active dealer accounts, the social network fails to effectively eradicate posts that explicitly mention certain illegal substances. Worse still, all you have to do is follow one of these accounts to be offered others.
Exactly a year ago, Gérald Darmanin, then Minister of the Interior, called Snapchat a “drug social network”. Indeed, dealers have been there for some time now, and it is not uncommon to come across content promoting substances of all kinds. Nevertheless, the platform is not the only one to attract these sellers. Indeed, Instagram has in turn become an internet drug hub, with Meta seemingly unable to do much about it.
This is revealed by the latest study by the group of activists The Tech Transparency Project, which wanted to assess the ease of access to accounts selling illegal substances. The discoveries are staggering. By simply creating a test profile to pose as teenagers, researchers were able to easily come across many accounts that explicitly display their products. And without, without incurring the wrath of the social network.
Drug dealers target teens on Instagram
Finding them couldn’t be simpler. Just type in the search bar expressions like “MDMA for sale” for several dealer accounts to be offered by Instagram. This actually works for several types of substances, the researchers point out, such as the antidepressant Xanax or “oxy”, which is short for oxycontin, a drug that can be used for recreational purposes.
Of course, Instagram’s policies clearly state that the sale of drugs is prohibited on its platform. But in reality, moderation turns out to be much more complicated than expected. For the time being, the Meta subsidiary’s measures boil down to blocking the use of certain hashtags related to the drug world, as well as displaying a prevention message when the user nevertheless ventures typing in the searches listed above.
But, as Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, points out, these restrictions are far from sufficient to effectively combat this phenomenon. “Instagram is opposed to actually doing anything that would materially address these harms on their platform because they don’t want to cut corners”she adds, since measures that are too strict could reduce the time users are present.
Instagram is not doing enough to get rid of drug dealers
What’s more, these efforts are proving much less effective than expected. Indeed, researchers found that some blocked hashtags could be circumvented by fleshing out the phrase. For example, it is not possible to use #fetanyl, but #fetanylcalifornia shows many compromising results for the platform. Also, the #Xanax blocked on the web version is not blocked on the smartphone version of the app.
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Worse still, sometimes Instagram encourages these searches. While #opiates yielded no results, the social network suggested the use of #opiatesforsale (“opiates for sale”) to researchers. It goes even further. Indeed, it is enough to follow a single dealer account for Instagram to offer several others to the user. Some of them boast of their discretion, while having a particular name and profile photo leaving very little doubt about their activities.
“We don’t allow the sale of illegal drugs and our systems detect and remove over 96% of illegal content before people report it”, Meta said, in response to the study. The firm has also deleted all accounts reported by The Tech Transparency Project. Still, these discoveries are particularly embarrassing for the latter.
While Instagram has recently been singled out for its negative impact on the mental health of its younger users, knowing that teenagers can easily buy drugs on its platform will not improve its image. Especially since if the company regularly improves its parental control, it is clear that the latter still has many shortcomings.
Source : Forbes