Meta has established an internal task force following the discovery by reporters and researchers that its systems have connected and supported a vast network of accounts focused on underage sexual content. According to a The Wall Street Journal, Instagram not only hosts such content but also promotes it through its algorithms. The company acknowledged enforcement problems and is taking steps to change its systems, including restricting recommendation searches associated with sex abuse.
Meta said that the company actively seeks to remove such users, having already taken down 27 pedophile networks over the last two years and blocking thousands of related hashtags, which reached millions of posts. It is also trying to stop its systems from connecting potential abusers with each other. However, the company’s efforts haven’t been enough, as academics have raised awareness of the problem through the discovery of large-scale communities dedicated to criminal sexual abuse, with Instagram being the primary platform.
Meta has been blocking child sexual abuse material networks and aiming to develop a system that prevents the algorithm from recommending sexually explicit content, but experts believe that the company needs to invest in more human investigators and take more immediate measures. They also criticized the company for allowing users to search terms associated with CSAM material, despite warnings suggesting the content may contain images of child sexual abuse.
Instagram’s suggestions and attempts to remove harmful content are also under scrutiny, with reports revealing that users’ attempts to report child-sex content were often ignored by Instagram’s algorithms. Facebook’s efforts to exclude hashtags and terms were sometimes overridden by the systems, suggesting users try variations of the same term. Even viewing one underage seller account caused the algorithm to recommend new ones, which helped to rebuild the network that the platform’s own safety staff was in the middle of trying to dismantle.
Despite this, Meta claims that child exploitation content appears in less than one in ten thousand posts, and it has taken down 490,000 accounts violating child safety policies in January alone. However, the report should be a wake-up call for the company, which needs to take bolder steps to combat child exploitation and prevent CSAM networks from functioning on its platform.