Instagram is cracking down on selling illegal drugs after a scathing media report uncovered nefarious actions on the platform.
The photo-sharing platform, which is owned by Facebook, has taken steps to alter its algorithms and search system to try to stay ahead of people who use the site’s hashtags to market drugs Oxycontin, Percocet and other substances.
A Washington Post report on Tuesday revealed that searching the drug hashtags resulted in thousands of posts from a mixture of people selling drugs illicitly, bragging about their drug usage or simply struggling with addiction.
Eric Feinberg, a researcher and the chief executive of GIPEC, a cyberintelligence company that tracks illegal and illicit activity online, started searching for hashtags back in June and eventually followed a number of accounts that were selling drugs.
That prompted Instagram’s algorithms to serve up more posts from other drug sellers and introducing him to other related hashtags.
However, a representative from Facebook characterized Feinberg’s findings as “misleading” due to this methodology.
“GIPEC created an artificial Instagram feed by following only objectionable content and some brand accounts. And while the fact that they were able to create it in the first place shows we still have work to do, this kind of manufactured feed is not a real representation of what most people see on Instagram,” said Monika Bickert, VP of Global Policy Management at Facebook, in a statement.
Nevertheless, Feinberg told Fox News that it was his methodology that alerted Instagram, which hit one billion monthly active users in June, to the severity of the problem.
A search by Fox News on Thursday of hashtags for a number of well-known illicit drugs turned up only a handful of posts – seemingly to show that the photo-based platform had largely been scrubbed of such content.
A similar search on Twitter and Facebook also did not yield any meaningful illicit results.
During Feinberg’s searching, he also saw ads from a range of mainstream companies—including Target, Chase and Proctor & Gamble—alongside posts selling illicit drugs.
Representatives from Facebook and Twitter told lawmakers during hearings this year that they were cracking down on the marketing of drugs on their platforms, the Washington Post reports.
“We’ve made progress in the fight against illicit drug sales on our platforms, but we have more to do,” Bickert said. “We’re committed to making sure we do everything we can to prevent this kind of abuse.”
Feinberg suggested to Fox News that tech companies’ immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be revoked as it pertains to drug sales.
Indeed, just days after lawmakers made that change, Craigslist shut down its entire Personals section — a move that was cheered by anti-sex trafficking advocates but criticized by sex workers.
“Immunity should be removed for illegal acts like sale of drugs and material support to terrorists,” Feinberg told Fox News.
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