(Addressed to Instagram Global Head of Policy)
December 4, 2019
Widespread predation of underage girls on Instagram
We have identified and collected hundreds of comments posted by men on the Instagram pages of underage girls between August and the time of writing. These include grooming-style comments, sexually harassing comments, requests for sexualised content (including nudes), requests for direct messages and for images to be sent via DM. Large numbers of comments are porn-themed. Men describe in explicit detail sexual abuse fantasies involving the underage girls whose identities and locations are often exposed, placing them at risk of further sexual exploitation. (We have compiled some of the most graphic comments here.)
Inadequate tools for keeping children safe
These predatory comments exist in plain view, unmoderated and unremoved. In some cases they have remained for more than a year - including on posts of girls as young as 4-years- old. Our reports to Instagram are often dismissed as not violating its ‘community guidelines’. Recent examples of dimissed comments include: (on a 13-year-old girl’s post) ‘Omg i sooooo wanna (emoji denoting) lick your (emoji denoting) pussy n (emoji dentoing) ass’; (on a child advertising underwear) ‘Ok im going out of line you put it on i take it off’; ( on a 9- year-old girl’s post) ‘please open your legs’ + emojis including kiss-lips; (various comments on underage girls’ posts) eggplant/peach/cucumber/squirt emojis denoting sexual acts. If these comments are not deemed in violation of whatever standards you use to determine whether content you host is in breach or not, perhaps those standards need to be revised?
There is also a serious shortcoming in Instagram’s reporting system. While comments can be reported as ‘harassment/bullying’ or as ‘violence/threat of violence’, there is no option which properly conveys the serious predatory and grooming nature of these comments. Instagram’s reporting system should include “sexualised/predatory/grooming comment directed at a minor” as its own category.
Instagram also needs to take action to prohibit adults from using ‘live’ posts to contact minors. We have viewed a 13-year-old girl’s live posts during which she was bombarded with sexual comments including a request for sex, questions about her underwear, a man telling her he wanted her to give him an erection, another saying he would pay to meet her and others pressuring her to remove her shoes and show her feet.
We note your statement about having “proactive technology” to keep the platform free from content that is harmful to children. Whatever methods Instagram has employed to date are insufficient for dealing with the rampant predation of children that we have documented. (Our response to Facebook’s official statement here.)
Instagram connects predators to children
Instagram is catering to the fantasy and fetishises of child predators. Through its ‘explore’ feature it directly connects predators with more underage girls. This appears to go directly against your own policies prohibiting content which endangers or exploits children . Regardless of the intended purposes of this feature, the reality is that it results in pointing predators directly to the girls they are preying on (virtually or in real life). Instagram should stop its ‘explore’ feature from promoting minors’ pages and connecting predators with children.
We have documented several Instagram pages devoted to republishing images of girls and young women in bikinis or in various modeling, gymnastics or dance poses. Posts on these pages frequently tag the child’s account with captions instructing others to follow the child. Some pages mix images of very young girls with porn-themed and pin-up style images of older teens and young women. These accounts serve as magnets for predators pointing them directly to more children. Instagram has responded to our reports of these accounts that they do not go against ‘community standards’. Instagram should properly investigate these parasite pages. Your company should also prohibit the republishing of images of children on pages that also feature pornified images of adults.
Instagram serves as supplier for pedophile forums
We have documented the names of hundreds of underage models, gymnasts and dancers on pedophile forums. We’ve reviewed a selection of the profile pages and found that every one contains direct links to the child’s Instagram account/s. We’ve also reviewed several forum pages and have evidence that Instagram is the primary source of images shared to the forums where men write explicitly about sex-abuse acts they’d like to carry out on individual girls. We have evidence of an individual commenting on an underage girl’s Instagram post to direct others to the forums.
Instagram accounts used to promote sale of images/videos of children
Some underage girls’ accounts are used to advertise monetised website subscriptions where men purchase exclusive photos and videos of children. Other accounts promote links to personal web pages where fans can purchase posters, calendars and photo/video packages. Underage girls also use Instagram to promote accounts on other social media platforms where sexualised content is under even less scrutiny, placing minors in further danger of being targeted by predators. We believe that Instagram must cease acting as an advertising service for individuals selling images/videos of minors.
The evidence we have gathered demonstrates the sexual exploitation of underage girls on Instagram. Your company is allowing predators almost unfettered access to them. Content hosted on your platform violates their right to grow up free from activity that harms them (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 36). Because of how common predatory behaviour has now become on Instagram, girls learn to think of it as normal which sets them up for even more harm.
We urge Instagram to prioritise this issue and act in a way that places the wellbeing of vulnerable young people above the interests of predators and reflects accepted standards of corporate social responsibility and ethical behaviour.
- Revise ‘Community Standards’ so that all sexualised, predatory and grooming-style comments (text, slang, short-hand, hashtags, emojis and graphics) qualify as violations.
- Add ‘sexualised/predatory/grooming comment directed at a minor’ as a reporting category.
- Prohibit adults from using ‘live’ posts to contact minors.
- Update Instagram’s system used to detect and remove sexualised, predatory comments.
- Recognising that Instagram serves as a supply source of images of children for web-based pedophile forums, update all relevant policies, guidelines and help documents (including ‘A Parent’s Guide to Instagram’) so that users are properly informed of the risks of sharing images of children to the platform.
- Stop the ‘explore’ feature from promoting minors’ pages and connecting predators with children.
- Investigate parasite pages that are exclusively devoted to republishing photos of minors, deleting pages where children are sexualised, harassed, groomed or where any type of predatory comments/behaviour is displayed.
- Prohibit the republishing of images of minors on Instagram pages that also feature porn-style images of adults.