Instagram’s Drug Problem Is Fueled By Its Own Algorithms

The photo-sharing app has become a sizable open marketplace for advertising illegal drugs.

(Getty Images)
Getty Images

Instagram has become a sizable open marketplace for advertising illegal drugs, reports The Washington Post. The photo-sharing app has pledged a crackdown in recent weeks, but is fighting its own algorithms and systems, which show an array of personalized drug-related content aimed directly at people who show an interest in buying substances.

The Post writes that recent searches on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, for hashtags of the names of drugs — like #oxy, #adderall, or #painkillers — revealed thousands of posts by people either grappling with addiction or bragging about partying, as well as enticements from drug dealers. If a user follows the dealer accounts or likes one of the dealer posts, Instagram’s algorithms will fill up that user’s feed with posts for drugs, suggesting other sellers to follow and showing new hashtags, like #xansforsale, writes The Post. 

The FDA says that drug posts on social media helped fuel the opioid epidemic that claimed more than 40,000 lives in the United States last year. The prevalence of drug posts on social media show that tech firms are outsmarted by their own software. The algorithms spread illicit content faster than the companies can take it down.

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