WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following reporting by The Wall Street Journal about Instagram hosting and connecting a vast network of pedophiles and child sexual abuse material (CSAM), U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), authors of the Kids Online Safety Act, demanded Meta answer for its failures to protect children on its platforms and efforts to stop and report the heinous crimes.
The investigation by The Wall Street Journal, Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Recue Lab found hundreds of accounts on the platform were able to openly sell and trade CSAM, including abuse content and content depicting illicit sexual acts and trafficked children. The researchers also found the platform’s algorithms contributed to this problem, flooding users with other child abuse communities.
“Instagram was not merely acting as a passive host for predators, but was found to be fostering abuse networks,” Blumenthal and Blackburn wrote to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Essentially, Instagram was caught brokering child abuse material and helping child predators network together.”
The senators said Meta failed to remove illicit hashtags and accounts associated with the pedophile network, which remained on Instagram even after the Journal’s reporting. The letter also documents Meta’s continued rejection of reports of child abuse, confirming the experience of parents and advocates who reported explicit images involving children but were left unanswered for months.
“Meta’s inaction has profound real life consequences for children,” the senators wrote. “These reports reflect a dangerous and recurring pattern of Meta failing to catch vile and exploitative material targeting children, despite repeated assurances to Congress and the public that it is cleaning up its platforms.”
While Meta has set up an internal task force to address these shortcomings and threats to children, Blumenthal and Blackburn called the response “anemic” and said the investigation’s finding “should trouble every young person and parent in America.” Blumenthal and Blackburn also noted that because of Meta’s weak enforcement and poor safeguards, the proliferation of CSAM, sextortion, and other threats to children are worse on Instagram than on other social media platforms.
Citing their work on the Kids Online Safety Act, the EARN IT Act, and the REPORT Act, the senators demanded Meta, “provide information regarding the prevalence of child sexual exploitation and the measures it takes to address child safety on Instagram and other platforms it operates.”
The text of the letter to Meta is available here.