Instagram Tied to Vast Pedophile Ring

An undercover investigation revealed that Instagram’s recommendation algorithms enable a “vast” network of pedophiles seeking illegal underage sexual content and activity.

Instagram Algorithms and Network of Pedophiles

Instagram, the popular social-media site owned by Meta (Facebook) Platforms, helps connect and promote a vast network of accounts openly devoted to the commission and purchase of underage-sex content, according to investigations by The Wall Street Journal and researchers at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Research shows that Instagram allowed users to search by hashtags related to child-sex abuse, including graphic terms such as #pedowhore, #preteensex, #pedobait, and #mnsfw (an acronym meaning “minors not safe for work”).

“Pedophiles have long used the internet, but unlike the forums and file-transfer services that cater to people who have an interest in illicit content, Instagram doesn’t merely host these activities. Its algorithms promote them,” the Journal reported. “Instagram connects pedophiles and guides them to content sellers via recommendation systems that excel at linking those who share niche interests.”

According to the report, academics from Stanford’s Internet Observatory and the UMass Rescue Lab were able to quickly find “large-scale communities promoting criminal sex abuse” and illegal underage sexual content on Instagram using explicit hashtags like #pedowhore, #preteensex, and #pedobait.

After the investigation team created test users and viewed a single account, they were immediately inundated with “suggested for you” recommendations of possible Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) sellers and buyers on Instagram, along with accounts linking to off-platform content sites.

Following just a handful of recommendations on the Instagram app caused the test accounts to be overrun with content that sexualizes children and to be recommended more accounts with this illegal content.

A Meta spokesperson said 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.”

Meta acknowledged they received reports of child sexual abuse and failed to act on them, citing a software error preventing them from being processed (which Meta said has since been fixed). “We provided updated guidance to our content reviewers to more easily identify and remove predatory accounts,” a Meta rep said.

According to the Journal’s report, “Technical and legal hurdles make determining the full scale of the [pedophile] network [on Instagram] hard for anyone outside Meta to measure precisely.”

In 2022 the WSJ reported that Instagram was fined $402 million in the EU for allegedly mishandling children’s data.

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