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!

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