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How The Drugs Trade is Flourishing on Instagram

Instagram has become a poorly policed marketplace for all kinds of drugs

Anne Parsons
How The Drugs Trade is Flourishing on Instagram© 2018 Katheirne Hitt - Flickr

The selling of drugs on Instagram has been been widely reported - in the media, that is - not on the actual site itself. The fact that Instagram goes largely unpoliced and relies on illegal activity being flagged by users, is precisely why the trade is flourishing there.

With the simple use of a hashtag, you can find any amount of illegal substance for sale. Articles have appeared in Vice, on VentureBeat, and the BBC cataloguing the problem that until recently has gone largely undetected. In response to these stories, Instagram took it upon itself to strategically block a number of hashtags in November last year, however other more ‘street’ names have sprung up in their place, as is the nature of the business.

It just seems Instagram is not doing enough to proactively crack down on the drugs trade on their site. It has been speculated that there isn’t even a full-time member of staff on the job, and that Instagram rely too much on user-submitted flagging - and who has the time to do that?

“Using a phone is risky, so the pros don’t.”

You might think one would have have to be pretty silly to sell drugs on the site, given how geo-tagging works. However many of the traders are sophisticated enough to use Virtual private networks (VPNs) that cover their tracks. According to Fletcher Babb, even with VPNs, “using a phone is risky, so the pros don’t.” They use laptops. The well-oiled dealer will also run Ubuntu, and use Virtual Box, to set up an operating system within an operating system. Inside this space, and with the use of a VPN, dealers can operate on Instagram with relative anonymity.

Until Instagram tackles this problem head-on, and relys less on user-based reporting, the trade will only continue to flourish. With over 200 million active monthly users, and with current minmal repercussions, it's too tempting a marketplace for some.

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