March 1, 2024

Instagram Is a Cesspool

Some parents are taking to social media platforms to exploit their young daughters for a twisted shot at fame and fortune.

Before the age of the Internet, mothers paraded their young daughters around in beauty pageants, often dressed provocatively and without knowledge of who might be watching their kids on stage. The vast majority of the time, that was harmless fun.

Today, the ubiquitous power of social media provides even more opportunities for mothers seeking attention and status for their children. But it’s even more dangerous, as platforms such as Instagram provide sexual predators direct access to images of their children.

Increasingly, however, more parents are actually marketing their children for monetary gain through platforms such as Instagram. One mother named Elissa “has been running her daughter’s Instagram account since 2020, when the girl was 11 and too young to have her own,” Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Michael Keller of The New York Times report. “Photos show a bright, bubbly girl modeling evening dresses, high-end workout gear, and dance leotards. She has more than 100,000 followers, some of them so enthusiastic about her posts that they pay $9.99 a month for more photos.”

The Times adds, “Over the years, Elissa has fielded all kinds of criticism and knows full well that some people think she is exploiting her daughter.”

Some mothers seek financial incentives by selling images of their girls, their children’s clothing, and even chat sessions with their daughters. The Times’s reporting duo examined 5,000 accounts connected to more than 30 million male followers. Some men continue asking for even more revealing images in conversations on messaging apps like Telegram. These images are accessible through subscriptions.

To get a better sense of the depravity, the Times reporters subscribed to several accounts: “On one account,” they reported, “141 subscribers liked a photo only available to those who paid $100 monthly, indicating over $14,000 in subscription revenue. Some of the descriptions also highlight the revealing nature of photos. One account for a child around 14 years old encouraged new sign-ups at the end of last year by branding the days between Christmas and New Year’s as ‘Bikini Week.’”

Making matters even worse, platforms like Instagram don’t seem to have any interest in protecting children, even though they’re fully aware of what’s being peddled under their name.

Jeff Horwitz and Katharine Blunt of The Wall Street Journal report that Meta staff discovered parents who used subscriptions “to sell exclusive content not available to nonpaying followers.” They continue, “The content, often featuring young girls in bikinis and leotards, was sold to an audience that was overwhelmingly male and often overt about sexual interest in the children in comments on posts or when they communicated with the parents, according to people familiar with the investigations, which determined that the payments feature was launched without basic child-safety protections.”

This serious situation could’ve been handled in a variety of ways — if Meta wanted to stop it.

“Meta could have banned subscriptions to accounts that feature child models,” write Horwitz and Blunt, “as rival TikTok and paid-content platforms Patreon and OnlyFans do, those people said. The staffers formally recommended that Meta could require accounts selling subscriptions to child-focused content to register themselves so the company could monitor them.”

At a congressional hearing in January, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was pressured to apologize to families whose children had been exploited — he did so, but only after claiming that his platform seeks to keep families and children safe. Indeed, Meta wants everyone to know what a great job it’s doing of policing this sick stuff: “From August 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023, we disabled more than 2.6 million accounts for violating our child sexual exploitation policies,” and “between August 29 and December 31, 2023, we took action on over 2.2 million accounts on Facebook and over 1.4 million accounts on Instagram, as they were linked to accounts that violated our child safety policies.”

But we have reason to be suspicious.

Former Facebook Director of Engineering Arturo Bejar, a Meta whistleblower who testified before Congress last year, stated that efforts by Meta to protect kids didn’t go far enough and were nothing more than a “placebo for press and regulators.”

Political pressure on Meta and other companies seems to be increasing, with studies showing just how serious this problem has become.

While companies like Meta should bear a significant part of the responsibility, parents also need to stop using social media to fulfill some twisted dream of turning their daughters into influencers or, worse, making money from subscribers who are often child predators.

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