December 19, 2019

Progress! We Met With Instagram About Their Problems With Sex Trafficking and Predatory Comments

We at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation recently met with a top executive from Instagram!

This occurred in December, after three anti-sexual exploitation organizations from three different countries–the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (United States), Collective Shout (Australia), and Defend Dignity (Canada)–launched a #WakeUpInstagram campaign to call on Instagram to improve its related policies and practices.

As part of this campaign, we brought forward three serious concerns:

  • According to survivor testimony, sex traffickers and child predators appear to be increasingly using Instagram to identify, groom, and exploit children.
  • Minors whose Instagram accounts are set to private can still receive unsolicited direct messages from strangers, which has led to several instances of sex trafficking and child sexual abuse.
  • There are countless comments by predatory adults on the photos of minors, where they leave sexually graphic comments, sexualize children, or solicit sex from children.

While there is still more work for Instagram to do, we are encouraged by the result of our meeting!

During this discussion, it became clear that Instagram has been working to address some of our recommended changes from our previous meeting in July of 2019. They’re increasing some protections for children by improving systems to identify grooming behavior patterns, and taking steps to fix the problems with unsolicited direct messages for minors. Unfortunately, it also appears that Instagram’s current system to remove sexualizing comments under children’s photos have not been as robust and consistent as Instagram intended. We believe that after our meeting, that matter is being investigated.

These system improvements are a step in the right direction, but it’s vital that NCOSE remains at the table in order to inform the policies and to bring survivors and other expert allies to consult, or else these improvements may still fall short of the digital safety overhaul that is necessary to make Instagram a safe environment.

This discussion is one of many, as Instagram committed to having an ongoing dialogue to fix these systems.

There is still a long way to go, and it is important to keep the pressure on Instagram to prioritize these issues, but we have hope that we are moving in the right direction!

Haley McNamara (Halverson)

Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach

Haley McNamara (formerly Halverson) is the Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation where she develops and executes national campaigns to change policies and raise awareness. Most notably, she promotes corporate social responsibility by constructing annual activism campaigns like the Dirty Dozen List, which names 12 mainstream private companies that facilitate sexual exploitation. Her advocacy work has contributed to instigating policy improvements in the native online advertising, retail, and hotel industries.

She is a former member of the Washington DC Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. This Committee advises DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on the multi-faceted continuum of the District of Columbia’s child welfare services, including prevention, early intervention, treatment, and sources of permanency.

Haley regularly speaks and writes on topics including child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, prostitution, sexual objectification, the exploitation of males, and more. She has presented before officials at the United Nations, as well as at several national symposia before influencers from the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Croatian government officials. She has provided training to Arlington County Child & Family Services on the social media grooming, recruitment, and advertising for sex trafficking. She has a Master of Arts in Government from Johns Hopkins University where she received honors for her thesis regarding the online commercial sexual exploitation marketplace.

Previously, Haley served for two years as Director of Communications for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation where she oversaw strategic messaging development, press outreach, email marketing, and social media marketing.

Prior to working at NCOSE, Haley wrote for Media Research Center. Haley graduated from Hillsdale College (summa cum laude) with a double major, and conducted a senior thesis on the abolitionist argument regarding prostitution. During her studies, she studied abroad at Oxford University and established a background in policy research through several internships in the DC area.

Haley has appeared on, or been quoted in, several outlets including the New York Times, NBC’s The Today Show, BBC News, New York Post, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Fox News, San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, Voice of America, Dr. Drew Midday Live, The DeMaio Report, the New York Daily News, the Washington Examiner, USA Radio Network, the Washington Times, CBC News, The Rod Arquette Show, The Detroit News, Lifezette, The Christian Post, Lifeline with Neil Boron, EWTN News Nightly, KCBS San Francisco Radio, LifeSiteNews, The Drew Mariano Show on Relevant Radio, News Talk KGVO, and American Family News.

She has written op-eds for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, FoxNews.com, Washington Examiner, Townhall.com, Darling Magazine, the Daytona-Beach News Journal, and has been published in the Journal of Internet Law and the journal Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and ViolenceShe has also contributed to a digital middle school curriculum regarding the links between sex trafficking and pornography as well as the public health impacts of sex trafficking.

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