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The photo-sharing app puts photos front and center, allows for a degree of anonymity, and encourages public posts that help like-minded strangers find each other.The product's real-time stream of images and the ease with which it can be accessed on smartphones also ensures that users can connect at all hours of the day.
With just 15 full-time employees and over five million photos uploaded every day, Instagram depends on its users to report activity that violates the service’s policies.
Chauntelle Tibbals, a visiting scholar researching the adult film industry at the University of Southern California, argued that overly broad wording in Instagram’s community guidelines leaves it vulnerable for explicit content.
“In terms of why we’re seeing these [graphic images], it has a lot to do with sites like Instagram not being specific enough in their terms of service,” said Tibbals.
Instagram is being used not only as a way to exchange X-rated images, but also a place for sex chat partners to find each other, offering a glimpse at how cybersex has adapted to the social media age.
Via photos, comments and hashtags, many Instagram members are inviting other users to join them for “Kik Sex” on the messaging app Kik, where individuals can chat privately or exchange nude photos. Girls who wanna play post a comment and I’ll kik you,” wrote one Instagram user in a post that included the tags “instaboner,” “instac*ck,” “instahorny,” “instap*ssy,” and “f*ckme.” “Don’t be shy. Hit me up hotties." The post received 17 “likes.” Instagram’s adult-content alter ego comes as no surprise: the deluge of explicit imagery accompanies nearly every social network’s transition to the mainstream.
“If something bills itself as non-pornographic then becomes that way, to me it’s a sign that it’s reached the public knowledge-base, and now it’s solidly there.” “On Instagram, the community appears to be changing,” Senft added.
The attributes that helped propel Instagram to social media stardom are the very same ones that make it so appealing to purveyors of soft-core pornography and people searching for sex-chat partners.
Though the sexual side of a social media site can be a turnoff for some users, companies’ crackdown on the photos can spark -- and has sparked -- its own backlash.
Facebook has repeatedly come under fire from users who allege its overly zealous censors inappropriately remove images of women breast-feeding, a nude statue, and a topless plastic doll.
“They are more than allowed to decide what they do or do not want on their site, but I think it’d be easier to just define the terms of service in a clear way and people will use it in a way Instagram is more comfortable with, and we’d be done with it.” A failure to crack down on the “instasex” community risks tainting Instagram’s rosy reputation and alienating users who came for tulips and landscapes, not Kik Sex and genitalia.
Parents, in particular, could have cause for concern: Users as young as 13 years old can create Instagram accounts, and an Instagram username is all that is necessary to tap into the app’s “sextagram” underbelly.
“We rely heavily on users to flag inappropriate content and we do our best to remove any media that we determine to be inappropriate,” an Instagram spokesperson said in an e-mail.