Instagram's recommendation algorithms linked and encouraged a "vast network of paedophiles" seeking illicit underage sexual content and conduct, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
These algorithms also marketed the sale of unlawful "child-sex material" on the network, it said.
The report is based on a joint investigation by the Wall Street Journal and researchers from Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst looking into child pornography on Meta's platform. Buyers might even "commission specific acts" or organize "meet ups" on some accounts.
"Pedophiles have long used the internet, but unlike the forums and file-transfer services that cater to people who have interest in illicit content, Instagram doesn't merely host these activities. Its algorithms promote them," the WSJ report said. "Instagram connects pedophiles and guides them to content sellers via recommendation systems that excel at linking those who share niche interests."
According to the investigation, Instagram users may search for child-sex abuse hashtags.
According to the researchers, these hashtags directed users to accounts that offered to sell paedophilic items and even included footage of minors harming themselves.
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Anti-paedophile campaigners alerted the corporation to accounts purporting to belong to a girl selling underage sex content.
The activists got automated answers that stated, "Because of the high volume of reports we receive, our team hasn't been able to review this post." In another situation, the message advised the user to conceal the account in order to avoid viewing its material, the report said.
A Meta spokesperson confirmed receiving the reports but failing to act on them, attributing the failure to a technological glitch, it also said.
The company told the WSJ that it has repaired the flaw in its reporting system and is offering fresh training to its content moderators.
"Child exploitation is a horrific crime. We're continuously investigating ways to actively defend against this behaviour," the spokesperson said.
Meta claims to have shut down 27 paedophile networks in the last two years and is preparing more. It also stated that hundreds of hashtags that sexualize minors, some with millions of postings, had been banned, the report concluded.