How Instagram is cracking down on illegal drug sales



Instagram founders leave Facebook

Move comes amid reports of tensions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Instagram is cracking down on the selling of illegal drugs after a scathing media report that revealed the nefarious actions on the platform.

The photo-sharing platform, which is owned by Facebook, has taken steps to change its algorithms and search system, try to stay from people who use the site to hashtags on the market medication Oxycontin, Percocet and other substances.

A Washington Post report on Tuesday showed that the search of the drug hashtags resulted in thousands of messages from a mix of people the sale of illegal drugs, bragging about their drug use, or simply struggling with an addiction.


Eric Feinberg, a researcher and the chief executive of GIPEC, a cyberintelligence company, that traces of illicit and illegal online activities, have begun to search for hashtags back in June, and eventually followed a number of accounts that were selling drugs.

That prompted Instagram’s algorithms to serve up more posts of other drug dealers and introducing him to other related hashtags.

However, a representative of Facebook characterized Feinberg’s findings as “misleading” by this methodology.

“GIPEC made of a artificial Instagram feed by following only the objectionable content and some brand accounts. And while the fact that they were able to make it in the first place shows we still have work to do, this kind of manufactured feed is not really a representation of what most people see on Instagram,” said Monika Bickert, VP of Global Policy Management at Facebook, in a statement.

However, Feinberg told Fox News that it is his methodology that warned Instagram, which hit one billion monthly active users in June, to the severity of the problem.

A search by Fox News on Thursday of hashtags for a number of well-known illegal drugs turned out to be only a handful of messages – apparently to show that the photo-based platform had largely been scrubbed of all such content.

A similar search on Twitter and Facebook also yielded no meaningful illegal results.

During Feinberg’s search, he also saw the ads from a range of mainstream companies such as Target, hunting and Proctor & Gamble, in addition to the messages the sale of illegal drugs.

Representatives of Facebook and Twitter, told legislators during hearings this year that they are cracking down on the marketing of medicinal products on their platforms, the Washington Post reports.


“We have made progress in the fight against illegal drugs to sell on our platforms, but we have more to do,” Bickert said. “We are committed to ensure that we do everything we can to prevent this type of abuse.”

Feinberg suggested to Fox News that the tech companies’ immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act must be repealed, when it comes to sell drugs.

Indeed, just days after the lawmakers made that change, Craigslist shut down the entire Personals section — a move that was welcomed by the anti-prostitution advocates, but criticized by prostitutes.

“Immunity should be removed for illegal activities such as the sale of drugs and material support to terrorists,” Feinberg told Fox News.

Christopher Carbone is a reporter and news editor covering technology and science for He can be reached at Follow him on @christocarbone.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular