An experiment conducted by the Wall Street Journal suggests Instagram is serving “risqué footage” of children and “overtly sexual adult videos” to minors. The report focused on the site’s “Reels” feature and found ads for high-profile brands, including Disney and Pizza Hut, placed next to sexually graphic content.
For their study, the Journal created a number of Instagram accounts in order to determine which ads they would receive after exclusively following “only young gymnasts, cheerleaders and other teen and preteen influencers.” The outlet ultimately found that Instagram “served jarring doses of salacious content to those test accounts.”
The sock accounts focused on the site’s Reels feature and were set up after “observing that the thousands of followers of such young people’s accounts often include large numbers of adult men, and that many of the accounts who followed those children also had demonstrated interest in sex content related to both children and adults,” according to the report.
One series of recommended Reels included an ad for the dating site Bumble sandwiched between a video of “someone stroking the face of a life-size latex doll” and a “video of a young girl with a digitally obscured face lifting up her shirt to expose her midriff.”
Another series included ads for Pizza Hut alongside a video of a man lying in bed next to “what the caption said was a 10-year-old girl.”
In addition to the barrage of questionable content, the Wall Street Journal reported ads “regularly” served to the test accounts included ads for dating apps, livestream platforms with “adult nudity,” massage parlors, and AI chatbots “built for cybersex.”
Meta’s terms of service are supposed to prevent these types of ads, the report noted.
In response to the experiment, a Meta spokesperson told the Journal the “tests produced a manufactured experience that doesn’t represent what billions of users see” and declined to comment on “why the algorithms compiled streams of separate videos showing children, sex and advertisements.”
Some advertisers, including Disney and Bumble, told the outlet that they have raised concerns over the issue with Meta. Others, including Pizza hut and Walmart, declined to comment.
The report comes as major brands continue to suspend advertising on X due to recent comments declared “antisemitic” by site owner Elon Musk, who has vehemently denied the allegations and clarified his comments. He has also disputed reports that ads for top brands are served next to explicit content and has filed a lawsuit in response.