(WTVO) — An investigation into child pornography on Instagram revealed the platform’s recommendation algorithms help “connect and promote a vast network of accounts openly devoted to the commission and purchase of underage-sex content.”
The report, published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, in conjunction with researchers at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found the platform “connects pedophiles and guides them to content sellers via recommendation systems that excel at linking those who share niche interests.”
Arrests for child pornography possession are becoming more common, and the ability to access the content online is a driving factor, said Detective Crystal Smoot in a June 2 interview with Eyewitness News.
“Pedophiles have long used the internet, but unlike the forums and file-transfer services that cater to people who have interest in illicit content, Instagram doesn’t merely host these activities. Its algorithms promote them,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Researchers who viewed a single child pornography account on Instagram “were immediately hit with ‘suggested for you’ recommendations of purported child-sex-content sellers and buyers, as well as accounts linking to off-platform content trading sites.”
“Following just a handful of these recommendations was enough to flood a test account with content that sexualizes children.”
Instagram’s parent company, Meta, acknowledged the company failed to act upon some reports of child sexual abuse, referencing a software error that prevented reports from being processed.
A Meta spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider that the company is “continuously exploring ways to actively defend against this behavior, and we set up an internal task force to investigate these claims and immediately address them.”
“Child exploitation is a horrific crime. We work aggressively to fight it on and off our platforms, and to support law enforcement in its efforts to arrest and prosecute the criminals behind it,” the spokesperson added.
The Journal’s report is another example of social media companies failing to control the proliferation of child pornography on their platforms.
In 2019, The New York Times reported “the Internet is overrun with images of child sexual abuse,” adding that companies and governments alike cannot keep up.
The report found child sex abuse content on other platforms, including Twitter, Snapchat and Discord. However, Instagram was found to “have a particularly severe problem.”
One the fastest-rising platforms, TikTok, “is one platform where this type of content does not appear to proliferate.”
Detective Smoot says adults need to have real conversations with children about what is happening on these platforms.
“Talk with your kids. Be active with your kids. Know what they’re looking at on the Internet. Know that their searches. Know what certain apps they’re using,” she said.
“Online gaming. Just know everything about them. They’re your kids. They’re their precious. Take care of them, watch over them, Know who they’re talking to.”