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Instagram Porn is Worse than you Think. It’s Time for Action.

Instagram's Porn Problem

Instagram Porn is Worse than you Think. It’s Time for Action.

Instagram Porn Introduction:

For years, we’ve been telling parents about inappropriate content on Instagram. We even coined a phrase, Instaporn, to characterize the trend of sexualized content that seemed to be invading a once, pure photo app. Those days of innocence are gone. And, the content is getting worse. Our recent testing confirms that Instagram Porn is everywhere. It’s time for Instagram to do something.

Instagram’s Noble Beginnings

It was Kevin Systrom’s then fiancée (Nicole Schuetz) who wanted a better filter for her photos while on vacation with Kevin in Mexico. Well, I don’t want to take photos, because my photos don’t look good.” Later that afternoon with a dial-up connection at a small bed and breakfast in Mexico, Kevin was learning how to create a filter (X-Pro II, which is still used in the app) and the rest is multi-billion dollar history.  This is a noble beginning. One founded on making something better. More beautiful. And, it was her idea (which is always preferable :). It’s this beginning that gives me faith in Instagram.

Contrast Instagram’s beginning to that of Snapchat. An app founded on getting away with something. An app openly accepted as “the sexting app.” As a publicly traded company, they need to tell a different story, but secrecy is their foundation. They’ll never be able to shake it. I don’t have the same faith in Snapchat (reinforced by their recent attempt to sneak in an X-rated Cosmo section in Discover).

“I actually think it’s about making the internet better.”

In a 2017 piece from WIRED Magazine titled, INSTAGRAM’S KEVIN SYSTROM WANTS TO CLEAN UP THE &#%$@! INTERNET, we read the following:

His first goal is to clean up the platform he runs…he also wants to show the rest of the internet that toxicity online isn’t ineluctable. “Maybe trying sends a signal to other companies that this is a priority, and starts a national and international conversation that we should all be having about creating safe and inclusive online communities, not only for our kids but for our friends and our families,” he says. “I think that will be success.”

In other words, from everything I’ve read about the kind, positive culture at Instagram, it is an app that wants to be part of what’s right about technology and not what’s wrong. Systrom himself is characterized as calm and kind, unaffected by his billion-dollar worth, with a personal Instagram feed full of puppies, hugs, smiles, food, famous people, and west coast coffee houses. Stories from the app’s humble beginnings boast of Systrom and co-founder Mike Krieger deleting hateful comments themselves. According to the WIRED article, “They even personally banned users in an effort Systrom called “pruning the trolls.””

Recent Instagram feature changes support the DNA of kindness, with an optional feature that uses machine learning to filter out hateful comments and rude emojis. If a user types the word “suicide” into Instagram’s Explore feature (the magnifying glass), they see a pop-up that says “If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.” The next screen offers support, including a number for a suicide-prevention hotline.

It’s clear that Instagram cares about making the app a safe and positive experience for its one billion users. Right?

Instagram’s Community Guidelines Are Clear

So, based on the gentle dispositions of the app’s creators, it’s no surprise that Instagram’s Community Guidelines make the following brief and clear statement:

The Short – We want Instagram to continue to be an authentic and safe place for inspiration and expression. Help us foster this community. Post only your own photos and videos and always follow the law. Respect everyone on Instagram, don’t spam people or post nudity.

It expands on “The Short” with additional explanation here:

We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.

This reads pretty clearly to us. “We don’t allow nudity on Instagram” doesn’t leave much room for debate. But, are these guidelines enforced? Every month, a population of people 3x the size of the United States uses the app. But, we don’t see a size clause in the guidelines. We don’t read anything that says, “we don’t allow nudity on Instagram unless there are too many people posting content and we just can’t keep up.”

We Tested Instagram’s Community Guidelines

So, we decided to put these guidelines to the test. For anyone who has used Instagram for any period of time, you know that the gold is in the #hashtags. Heck, now you can even follow #hashtags as if they were living beings. Anyone who wants other people to find anything uses #hashtags to accomplish this goal, whether you have good or bad intent. Pornographers depend on #hashtags to make their content found. After all, what good is online porn if no one can find it?

Here’s what we did. Simple, really. We selected five #hashtags that are known offenders when it comes to inappropriate content. For five days, we reported these #hashtags using Instagram’s self-reporting feature, at least 10 times per day. Meaning, we told Instagram that the #hashtag was posting inappropriate content and/or the #hashtag itself is inappropriate. Therefore, each #hashtag was reported at least 50 times over a 5-day timeframe. And, we wanted to see if it made a difference.

Here’s What We Found from our Testing

Trigger warning: we’ve done everything possible to remove as much visually stimulating content as possible from the screen shots below. But, the words used to describe what’s occurring in the videos and photos could be triggering to some individuals. Unfortunately, the 50% of the 5th grade classes that regularly tell us they use Instagram have this content at their fingertips. So, we might as well WAKE UP and see the truth. It’s time to embrace the disgusting reality of the digital playgrounds where we’ve allowed our precious young people to spend time.

Instagram Porn Problem Sexyvideo

Notice that there are 1.6M posts on each day for this #hashtag.

 

Instagram Pornporn

Here, the number of total posts toting the #pornporn hashtag actually increased after five days of reporting.

Instagram Porn - sex

The sheer quantity of posts boasting the #sex hashtag is mind boggling. Why is this hashtag even allowed? What content that uses this hashtag would ever be in compliance with Instagram’s Community Guidelines? There’s so much pornographic content in this hashtag that the thumbnail image showing up in Explore search results, before even clicking on anything, is porn. Note where I had to block it out with the smaller #1 on each day. Notice the violence associated with sex in multiple of the screen shots. I don’t show it here, but on day three during our reporting of the #sex hashtag, there was a video of a man literally strangling a woman with his private parts with her eyes rolled back. Right at the very top of the image feed. It even populated the thumbnail image. It left us horrified.

Instagram has a significant problem with non-English syntax. Meaning, with a simple accent or tilde, pornographers and amateurs can evade the minimal syntax controls that sporadically seem to be in place. I’m confident Instagram has the digital intelligence to overcome this issue (see recommendations below).

Instagram Porn Problem - Hot

Instagram has always struggled with the word “hot,” whether it contains accents, dots, or nothing at all.

And, after five days, we received no message from Instagram, even though they had a working email for us  in the testing profile. Also note that in all five of the #hashtags we tested, none of our reporting had any discernible impact on the overall number of photos available in each #hashtag.

Based on our Testing, Instagram Needs to do More

We don’t have all of the answers, but we’re left with an overall feeling that an organization with Instagram’s technological aptitude and noble beginnings should have the ability and desire to do more. Listen, we know that an unfortunately large percentage of human beings will go out of their way to corrupt anything good. We’re reasonable enough to recognize that Instagram porn will always be a problem at some level. It must be incredibly difficult to control the content being posted by millions and millions of people. But, honestly, that’s not our problem. That’s Instagram’s problem. They created the platform and the guidelines for use. Non-compliance is something they need to own.

The WIRED article makes this alarming, but true statement:

“As the CEO of a service with 700 million users (this was 12 months ago), Systrom recognizes that he’s something like the benevolent dictator of a country more than twice the size of the US. The choices he makes affect the lives of all his users—some of whom are insecure teens, some of whom are well-adjusted adults….”

And, we’re sorry, but that role brings with it immense responsibility, whether Kevin likes it or not. We’re sure that engineers and content managers at Instagram could come up with a hundred brilliant ways to fix these problems in one afternoon. We’ve included a short list here as a starting point:

  • Raise the difficulty to creating an account. You don’t even need a working email address or age verification (e.g., a birthday) of any kind to create an account. Even Snapchat has a birthday requirement that allows them to gate certain content.
  • Use machine learning to identify and block porn. The technology exists. I know you have it. Even the Monkey app has started using AI to identify and block inappropriate content.
  • Prevent obviously non-compliant hashtags from being used. Some might claim free speech violations here. Sure. But, when would using the hashtag #pornporn ever be consistent with your stated Community Guidelines? Either block using certain hashtags or change the Guidelines.
  • Hire more humans to review and remove content that violates your community guidelines. It just feels like there aren’t any humans on the other side of the line when I’m submitting a complaints about a post or #hashtag. With only 500 employees and over one billion monthly users, that means each of your employees is taking care of 2M people. It’s just not possible. I mean, the signs that an account is posting filth are obvious – if the username is “”sglknoiwer1092k,” has 2 posts, but has 500 followers, then obviously something isn’t right. Those three attributes just described a LARGE number of pornographic accounts that you could do something about TODAY.
  • Create a safe mode for parents who want to teach their kids how to use Instragram. Please give parents something more than private accounts and blocking cruel words. The issue is removing or at least mitigating the level of filth in the content that they’re able to search for or accidentally stumble upon. Maybe safe mode doesn’t include the ability to search hashtags. Maybe safe mode removes direct messages that disappear. Maybe safe mode doesn’t include a one-click integration with IGTV, with its ever-growing quantity of sexualized, longer-form video content. Maybe safe mode removes the ability to “clear search history” and wiping away what a young teen boy is doing in his bedroom at night. Please give parents something more.
  • Open up just a little more of your API to noble companies like you. BARK comes to mind. We love their mission of allowing kids to use platforms like Instagram, but also alerting parents to anything potentially harming. They’re your ally.
  • Remove Instagram’s blog from Tumblr. Kids know that without ever leaving Instagram, they can navigate to a search in Tumblr through your blog and search for whatever they want. We all know Tumblr’s reputation for purity.

The main point we want Instagram is hear is “If you want to be known as an app that cares about kids, then you need to do more. Your stated values and your corporate behaviors are inconsistent. Please fix this.”

Instagram Porn is Everywhere. What Can Parents Do Today to Protect Their Kids?

When it comes to inappropriate content (like Instagram Porn), Instagram doesn’t provide parental controls. The only solution we recommend for monitoring Instagram is BARK. On Android, BARK can even alert parents to inappropriate searches in Explore (not on iOS yet). It’s a start and honestly, the best we can do for now, until Instagram gives us some help.

Bark Parental Controls

For mitigating bullying activity – get in your kid’s business, follow their account(s), and in their settings, enable Instagram’s “Comment Controls” to block abusive words and emojis. BARK also helps here with its algorithm that can detect hurtful and cruel words with a notification to a parent.

For finding fake accounts – get in your kid’s business, follow their account, review their following (because kids almost always follow their secret accounts), and read about Finsta accounts.

Related post: Finsta – How Well do You Know Instagram?

For protecting your child from predatory activity – talk to them openly about predators and grooming, review their direct messages, and get privacy and location settings locked down.

Related post: Digital Kidnapping – Your Kids and Social Media Privacy 

For doing something about social media anxiety, depression, or addiction – this one really comes down to parenting by creating healthy guardrails around your children who use social media and sticking to them. Be a parent!

Instagram, it’s Time to Get Back to Your Noble Roots

Here’s the thing. We really want Instagram to figure this out and thrive! We will be the first organization to give credit where credit is due, just like we did when Cosmo and Snapchat conceded their rather sneaky attempt at rolling out After Dark in Discover. If Instagram recognizes the issue and puts measures in places to address its porn problem, we’ll sing their praises.

But, to Kevin Systrom and the rest of Instagram’s leadership, ask yourself if Instagram is still a noble app. One that has the right resources in place to maintain at least a minimal level of compliance with its stated Community Guidelines. If not, will you commit to doing more? Is Instagram an app that you’re proud to put into the hands of each of your 13-year-old sons and daughters without fear or apprehension? Because, that’s what you’re asking each of us to do. We look forward to the changes you might decide to make.


Parents, Have you Heard of BARK?

Parents, do you want a better idea of what your kids are doing on social media? What about the comments on your daughter’s Instagram photos? Or, iMessage activity on your son’s iPhone? Then, look no further than Bark. We trust it and think you might like it, too.

Bark Parental Controls

*Note – links in this post might connect to affiliates who we know and trust. We might earn a small commission if you decide to purchase their services. This costs you nothing! We only recommend what we’ve tested on our own families. Enjoy!

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Living life to the full! That's why He died and how I try to live. I have an eclectic list of professional experience...CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, now educational resource manager for Covenant Eyes. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I want to show parents how to protect their kids from online dangers, which led to the creation of Protect Young Eyes. We recently created Virtue in Media, the first digital citizenship curriculum based on Scripture (www.virtueinmedia.com).

2 Comments
  • John winstanley
    Posted at 14:50h, 12 August

    Great job team pye! Going above and beyond what others are doing.

  • Joan Osmundson
    Posted at 15:17h, 17 August

    Thank you for this enlightening article. I appreciate your desire to protect not only your kids but ALL kids from inappropriate and life-damaging web content!

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