Premieres Tonight at 8pm ET
The decade's most triggering comedy
Social media platform Instagram has been accused of helping to facilitate connections between a “vast pedophile network,” according to a report from the The Wall Street Journal and academic researchers.
The Journal, alongside researchers at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, reported that Instagram allowed and promoted accounts that openly buy and commission “underage-sex content.”
“Instagram connects pedophiles and guides them to content sellers via recommendation systems that excel at linking those who share niche interests, the Journal and the academic researchers found,” the outlet reported. “The researchers found that Instagram enabled people to search explicit hashtags such as #pedowhore and #preteensex and connected them to accounts that used the terms to advertise child-sex material for sale.”
Accounts would post “menus” that offered inappropriate content, including “imagery of the minor performing sexual acts with animals,” according to researchers from the Stanford Internet Observatory. Other “menus” reportedly offered videos of children hurting themselves or “meet-ups” with kids.
“Child exploitation is a horrific crime,” said Meta, the parent company of Instagram. “We’re continuously investigating ways to actively defend against this behavior.”
The social media giant added that it had removed 27 pedophile networks, and has reportedly taken down hashtags used by pedophiles in response to the Journal’s report. Instagram also reportedly took other steps to limit the reach of abusive content.
According to the Journal, the Stanford Internet Observatory identified 405 accounts that sold “self-generated” child sex material, accounts that claimed to be operated by children.
Stanford researchers also found that there was less child sex material on Twitter than on Instagram. The material on Twitter was also taken down faster, according to Stanford researchers.
“Instagram’s problem comes down to content-discovery features, the ways topics are recommended, and how much the platform relies on search and links between accounts,” said David Thiel, the chief technologist at the Stanford Internet Observatory. “You have to put guardrails in place for something that growth-intensive to still be nominally safe, and Instagram hasn’t.”
In one instance, an activist said that Instagram responded to a report of a post of a young girl with a sexually graphic caption that the post did not violate the platform’s guidelines. The activist also received an automated message when reporting a post captioned “This teen is ready for you pervs,” the Journal reported.
One researcher described Instagram as an “on ramp” to the world of explicit child sexual material.
“Instagram is an on ramp to places on the internet where there’s more explicit child sexual abuse,” said Brian Levine, the director of the UMass Rescue Lab.
The report has elicited a large response, including from Republican North Carolina Rep. Dan Bishop, who called on the FBI to take action.
“Where is the [FBI]? Shouldn’t heinous crimes like this be its top priority? Or are they too busy classifying concerned parents as domestic extremists to bring down the hammer on these despicable criminals?” Bishop tweeted.