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"See It Anyway?": Instagram is the World's Most Efficient Child Pornography Network, According to Shocking New Report from Stanford University

Instagram InvertedThe Wall Street Journal published a horrifying new report today about endemic child pornography on Instagram.  Referring to a “vast” network of pedophiles, it claims that Instagram’s algorithms efficiently connect those who peddle child pornography and those seeking it.

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.  Though out of sight for most on the platform, the sexualized accounts on Instagram are brazen about their interest. 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.

Shockingly, Instagram often offers up material it knows to be CSAM and then let searchers view it.  Quoting the Journal:

In many cases, Instagram has permitted users to search for terms that its own algorithms know may be associated with illegal material. In such cases, a pop-up screen for users warned that “These results may contain images of child sexual abuse,” and noted that production and consumption of such material causes “extreme harm” to children. The screen offered two options for users: “Get resources” and “See results anyway.”

These accounts feature extensive menus of illegal material where pedophiles can purchase images and videos, and even arrange in-person “meetups”.

While this violates Meta’s terms of service, Stanford pointed out that it had a small team of three researchers looking at the issue, and they had no trouble finding an limitless quantity of child pornography, all efficiently served to them by Instagram’s algorithms.

Stanford’s report comments:

Our investigation finds that large networks of accounts, purportedly operated by minors, are openly advertising SG-CSAM [Self-Generated Child Sexual Abuse Material] for sale on social media. Instagram has emerged as the primary platform for such networks, providing features that facilitate connections between buyers and sellers. Instagram’s popularity and user-friendly interface make it a preferred option for these activities. The platform’s recommendation algorithms effectively advertise SG-CSAM: these algorithms analyze user behaviors and content consumption to suggest related content and accounts to follow.

The ubiquity of video capture equipment – aka cell phones – enables underage minors to produce material, often under threats of blackmail or outright coercion.  Or simply because they’re teenagers who are immature and not mindful of consequences.  The Innocent Lives Foundation reported that 1 in 5 teenage girls and 1 in 10 teenage boys have consensually shared nudes.  As many as 39% of teens may subsequently non-consensually share these images.

Whether the images are produced by teens seeking profits, shared non-consensually, or produced under coercion, Instagram is the prime marketplace.  While Meta has blocked thousands of hashtags, the material remains trivial to find.  And this is by design – Instagram’s algorithms connect users with what they’re interested in.  So once a pedophile finds his target, Instagram will connect him with a galaxy of other like-minded individuals and vendors.

This problem isn’t unique to Instagram.  The Stanford team noted that “Twitter didn’t recommend such accounts to the same degree as Instagram, and it took them down far more quickly”.


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