Instagram is serving kids’ accounts sexual content within minutes, report says

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Instagram appears to be filling kids’ feeds with sexually suggestive content, including videos from adult content creators who offer users free naked photos in exchange for engagement.

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A new investigation from the Wall Street Journal, in partnership with Laura Edelson, a computer science professor at Northeastern University, showed that after three minutes of making accounts with the age set at 13 and watching content, Instagram serves those new users with sexual videos.

The investigation, which was conducted over seven months and involved creating several accounts with the age recorded as 13, found that within just 20 minutes of watching the platform’s short-form video platform Reels users’ feeds were filled with posts from online sex workers. When the same test was run on Snapchat and TikTok, sexual content was notably not served.

“All three platforms also say that there are differences in what content will be recommended to teens,” Edelson said. “But even the adult experience on TikTok appears to have much less explicit content than the teen experience on Reels.”

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone told Quartz that “this was an artificial experiment that doesn’t match the reality of how teens use Instagram.”

Stone said the company has “established an effort to further reduce the volume of sensitive content teens might see on Instagram, and have meaningfully reduced these numbers in the past few months.”

Still, the investigation bore disturbing results. In one instance, an Instagram account with the age set to 13 was shown multiple videos about anal sex after 30 minutes of watching Instagram-recommended content.

In one test account for a teen, a content creator’s video showed up that promised to send a picture of her “chest bags” to users who commented on her video.

In the tests, the accounts set up for minors didn’t follow any other accounts or search for anything to see what Instagram was putting in its feeds. While accounts were initially served videos about cars and comedy, those reportedly fell away and sexually explicit content often replaced them.

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