Instagram makes it easy for teenagers to find illicit drugs online

The app’s search algorithm made it easy to find those hashtags, with its autocomplete feature pointing researchers in the right direction.

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Instagram is jeopardizing teens, by providing a way to illicit drugs such as Xanax and MDMA, according to a newly published report from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP).

The social media platforms allows teen users to use as young as 13 to find potentially deadly drugs for sale in just two clicks, according to a TTP investigation, that adds to mounting questions about the dangers the platform poses to children.

TTP, in its investigation, created a series of fake accounts to test the safeguards Instagram has in place to protect teenagers from illicit drugs.

The investigation found that it only took two clicks for a hypothetical teen to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax. In contrast, the research company notes that it took more than double the number of clicks, five—for the teen to log out of Instagram.

While drug-related hashtags like #mdma (for the party drug ecstasy) are banned on the platform, but if the teen user searched for terms like “mdmamolly”, referred to people who sell the drug, then the app’s search algorithm made it easy to find those hashtags, with its autocomplete feature pointing researchers in the right direction.

When a teen account followed a drug dealer on Instagram, the platform started recommending other accounts selling drugs. Shockingly, drug dealers operate “openly on Instagram, offering people of any age a variety of pills, including the opioid Oxycontin. Many of these dealers mention drugs directly in their account names to advertise their services,” the company pointed out.

Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Instagram parent company Meta, said in a statement to NBC News that the platform prohibits drug sales. “We’ll continue to improve in this area in our ongoing efforts to keep Instagram safe, particularly for our youngest community members.”

Meanwhile, the platform, now part of Facebook parent company Meta, has faced criticism and scrutiny over its impact on the mental health of young people following revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.

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