Instagram Under Fire for Profusion of Profiles ‘Selling Sex’ 

The photo sharing app has become the go-to platform for activities involving exchanging sexual favours for money.

Tech News
3 min read
Instagram is popular for its influencer base and promoting brand activities.

Social media platforms are running into all kinds of unforeseen problems in India, and after Twitter and Facebook, now it’s time for Instagram to come under the spotlight.

According to an extensive report by Economic Times, the photo-sharing platform has become a hub for lewd activities in the country – we’re talking about profiles created to offer sexual favours in return for money.

All this is happening on the virtual platform and it still isn’t clear whether the profiles created on Instagram are genuine, or whether they are people using stolen profiles to create these accounts for quick money – if it’s the latter, that’s a scary digital racket worth looking into.

We’ve already seen how other apps like Tik Tok, the video content sharing platform, have come under scrutiny for lack of governance, which has lead to mass sharing of hateful, violent and obscene videos by its users.

While social media platforms claim to do their best to moderate and filter content, it has been hard for them to monitor hashtags, making them the tool which is used by people on the platform to connect with these profiles.

The report specifically mentions hashtags like #paytmgirls or #paytmgirl and while searching for them, you come across over 14,000 posts.

Search for #paytmgirl on Instagram and see what happens.
Search for #paytmgirl on Instagram and see what happens.
(Photo: The Quint/Canva)

It begins when a user opens an account of one of these profiles, gets to see their Stories and then follows it up with a direct message (DM) to get more details about the service on offer.

In order to mask the true objective of this exercise, the account-holders structure the description of posts to mislead Instagram’s moderation team. Though, they place certain keywords in the description as hints to potential customers.

Most of the posts mentioned in the report and even The Quint observed had hashtags like #paytmgirl, #paytmgirls and #paytmfun and you can see the results in the above image.

Worrying Signs

Most of these platforms have been talking about changes, but there’s been little observable improvement.

“Hashtags used on the reported images were reviewed, and associated accounts and content that violated community guidelines were removed. Keeping Instagram safe is hugely important to us. We do not allow content that displays, coordinates or advocates commercial sexual services.”
Instagram spokesperson to The Quint

While Instagram claims that hashtags and the related content have been removed, we still managed to easily access profiles using the same keywords mentioned in the report and were even able to connect with profiles that were offering their services for as little as Rs 600.

The payment side is where PayTM comes in. The digital wallet is supposed to complete the process of Know Your Customer (KYC) for its users, without which they can’t do peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions.

Prepaid wallet users in India were asked to verify accounts from March 2018.
Prepaid wallet users in India were asked to verify accounts from March 2018.
(Photo: The Quint)

However, ET’s story seems to suggest that not only are customers able to pay, they are doing so by relying on other people who are acting as middlemen. These profiles have all the details, including which number they need to call, and how much they have to pay for the services.

We cross-checked some of these numbers via Truecaller and we were able to get details, including name of the person to whom the SIM/number belongs.

Instagram seems to be the latest hotbed for such activities, which has been a constant presence on dating platforms like Tinder, and even Snapchat for the global users.

Their access to a user’s content depends on a simple process of following that user, which is easy to go through due to lack of accountability on Instagram’s part, giving these profiles a free ride till now.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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