Tech reviews

“Instagram Connects Vast Pedophile Network”

Reporting underscores need for a national data privacy standard

A new investigative report is out by the Wall Street Journal and the evidence is clear: Instagram connects and promotes accounts that are openly dedicated to the purchasing and selling of child sexual abuse materials. Instagram is allowing this content to spread in violation of both federal law and Meta’s own platform rules.

The Journal’s reporting underscores the need to pass a national data privacy standard. It’s the best way to protect Americans online, especially kids, and hold Big Tech companies accountable for its dangerous algorithms.

Top takeaways from the report:

1. Instagram’s algorithms actively promote illicit content.

As reported by the WSJ: “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 Instagram connects pedophiles and guides them to content sellers via recommendation systems.”

“Even glancing contact with an account in Instagram’s pedophile community can trigger the platform to begin recommending that users join it.”

2. Instagram allows explicit hashtags which connect users to accounts that advertise child-sex material for sale.

“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.”

3. Instagram has allowed users to search for terms that its own algorithms know may be harmful or illegal content.

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WSJ: A screenshot taken by the Stanford Internet Observatory shows the warning and clickthrough option when searching for a pedophilia-related hashtag on Instagram.


“In response to questions from the Journal, Instagram removed the option for users to view search results for terms likely to produce illegal images. The company declined to say why it had offered the option.”

4. Instagram’s parent company, Meta, admitted they are not enforcing their policies and have failed to combat inappropriate content.

“Earlier this year, an anti-pedophile activist discovered an Instagram account claiming to belong to a girl selling underage-sex content, including a post declaring, ‘This teen is ready for you pervs.’ When the activist reported the account, Instagram responded with an automated message saying: ‘Because of the high volume of reports we receive, our team hasn’t been able to review this post.’

“A Meta spokesman acknowledged that Meta had received the reports and failed to act on them. A review of how the company handled reports of child sex abuse found that a software glitch was preventing a substantial portion of user reports from being processed, and that the company’s moderation staff wasn’t properly enforcing the platform’s rules, the spokesman said.”

Energy and Commerce is leading on a federal data privacy and security law that establishes the strongest safeguards for kids’ online data, strengthens Americans’ data protections, and holds Big Tech accountable. As Chair Rodgers said in our data privacy hearing series, a national standard is a foundational piece of protecting children online.

Our framework protects kids online by:

  • Minimizing the sensitive data that is collected and retained on all Americans, including children  
  • Treating all data on children under 17 as sensitive, meaning more robust protections for the collection and transfer of their personal information  
  • Requiring assessments of Big Tech algorithms and how they harm children  
  • Prohibiting targeted advertising to children under 17 years old

CLICK HERE to read the full Wall Street Journal report.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) released a joint statement demanding answers from Instagram.

Key excerpt: “It is clear these companies cannot be trusted to protect children on their platforms, which is why the majority of parents want Congress to do more to strengthen protections for online safety. And they are right. The exploitation of children that this report revealed is indefensible, and we are determined to rein in these social media companies, starting with the passage of bipartisan privacy legislation.”

Read more about the Energy and Commerce Committee’s bipartisan efforts to strengthen data privacy and security protections for Americans:


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