Instagram isn’t just for sharing pictures of your breakfast or cat videos anymore. It’s increasingly becoming a place where illicit drug users are connecting with dealers to purchase their next hit. The social media platform has long been used for dubious purposes – and it’s not alone in that, as drug dealers can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging apps – like selling guns and sex. Now, according to an article in the Washington Post, the algorithms that help Instagram suggest tags and posts are being used to advertise illegal drugs.

The point of Instagram’s algorithm is to show you posts that will keep you interested and coming back for more. Before 2016, posts appeared in chronological order, but in March of that year it shifted to show you things that the algorithm determined you’d be most interested in first. It uses six key factors to order your posts: interest, timelines, relationship, frequency, following, and usage. Instagram can determine your level of interest in certain topics by looking at things you’ve posted or liked in the past. The most important for the purposes of this discussion is interest. Say, for example, that you tend to publish a lot of posts about marijuana and follow several pro-legalization accounts. Odds are that you’re going to see more posts and suggestions for marijuana-related things, and some of those are going to be dealers. You don’t have to follow the dealer to see his content, either. It’s possible that a friend of yours follows him and shared a post, which you then liked or commented on, and then Instagram will begin showing you more of his content.

Instagram is aware of the problem and has been trying to crack down on drug-related content, but it’s having trouble keeping up with its own algorithms. A simple hashtag search – say for #oxy, #percocet, #painkillers, #painpills, #oxycontin, #adderall, or #painrelief – will net thousands of posts or accounts. Some of these might be people struggling with addiction and looking for help, some are people bragging about their drug use or partying, and some are drug dealers. It’s concerning to think that someone might search one of these tags while they’re struggling to get clean, thinking they can connect with other people in their situation, and instead stumble across a drug dealer trying to sell them more product.

Earlier this year, executives from Facebook (which owns Instagram) and Twitter promised during congressional hearings that they were in the process of cracking down on drug sales. The truth is, however, that thanks to the power of social media, these drug-related posts are spreading faster than the tech companies know how to take them down.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.



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