TTP Investigation: Instagram Offers Drug Pipeline to Kids

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 07, 2021

Contact: Michael Clauw,, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report demonstrating how Instagram allows teen users as young as 13 to find potentially deadly drugs for sale in just two clicks. After creating multiple Instagram accounts for hypothetical minors between the ages of 13 and 17, researchers found that Instagram not only allowed the teen users to easily search for age-restricted and illegal drugs, but the platform’s algorithms helped them connect directly with drug dealers selling everything from opioids to party drugs.

Read the report.

Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “This experiment reveals just how dangerous unabated connectivity via Instagram can be when handed to an underage audience. It’s especially shocking considering the platform felt it was ready to expand its service to an even younger audience with the currently ‘paused’ Instagram Kids.”

Researchers found that when a hypothetical teen user logged into the Instagram app, it took only two clicks to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax. In contrast, it took five clicks to log out of the app—a sign that Instagram uses friction to keep young people from leaving the platform, but not to stop them from finding dangerous content.

Although Instagram bans some drug-related hashtags like #mdma (for the party drug ecstasy), if the teen user searched for #mdma, Instagram auto-filled alternative hashtags for the same drug into the search bar. Additionally, when a teen account followed a drug dealer on Instagram, the platform started recommending other accounts selling drugs. Researchers did not purchase any drugs during the course of the investigation, but in at least one case, after a minor user followed an Instagram account selling drugs, the dealer sent a direct message with a menu of products, prices, and shipping options without waiting for the buyer to initiate a conversation.

Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “This research illustrates the harms Instagram poses for teens every day. With mounting research into the platform’s negative effects on mental health and its amplification of illegal drugs, Instagram has a lot to answer for. With his testimony before the Senate tomorrow, we hope that Instagram chief Adam Mosseri can provide more than just empty assurances.”

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.