Instagram and Facebook Subscriptions Get New Scrutiny in Child Safety Suit

Instagram and Facebook Subscriptions Get New Scrutiny in Child Safety Suit

The New Mexico attorney general, who last year sued Meta alleging that it did not protect children from sexual predators and had made false claims about its platforms’ safety, announced Monday that his office would examine how the company’s paid-subscription services attract predators.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez said he had formally requested documentation from the social media company about subscriptions on Facebook and Instagram, which are frequently available on children’s accounts run by parents.

Instagram does not allow users under 13, but accounts that focus entirely on children are permitted as long as they are managed by an adult. The New York Times published an investigation on Thursday into girl influencers on the platform, reporting that the so-called mom-run accounts charge followers up to $19.99 a month for additional photos as well as chat sessions and other extras.

The Times found that adult men subscribe to the accounts, including some who actively participate in forums where people discuss the girls in sexual terms.

“This deeply disturbing pattern of conduct puts children at risk — and persists despite a wave of lawsuits and congressional investigations,” Mr. Torrez said in a statement.

Mr. Torrez filed a complaint in December that accused Meta of enabling harmful activity between adults and minors on Facebook and Instagram and failing to detect and remove such activity when it was reported. The allegations were based, in part, on findings from accounts Mr. Torrez’s office created, including one for a fictitious 14-year-old girl that received an offer of $180,000 to appear in a pornographic video.

Although Instagram’s rules prohibit users under 18 from offering subscriptions, the mom-run accounts sidestep that restriction.

“I found the reporting from The New York Times on Meta creating a market funded by child predators to be deeply disturbing,” Mr. Torrez said. “After reading The Times’s story, I sent Meta a new request for documents based on the alarming findings.”

Instagram introduced subscriptions in 2022. The added feature has come as social media companies compete fiercely to attract people engaged in the so-called creator economy. Instagram does not take a cut from the subscription revenues, but it benefits when influencers and other popular users choose the platform to build their fan base.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Meta staff members had raised alarms about the rollout of the subscription service. The article quoted unnamed Meta employees saying that some parents knew they were producing content for “other adults’ sexual gratification.”

Some of these accounts include outtakes, behind-the-scenes photos and other “exclusive content” in their subscription offerings, which the parents view as a good way to earn extra money for the girl influencers. Many mothers told The Times that they spent countless hours blocking “creepy” men from following the accounts, which many continue to run even after their daughters become teenagers; others said the large following was beneficial in promoting their daughters on Instagram.

A group of more than 40 other state attorneys general also sued Meta in state and federal court last year alleging that its products were harmful to teens and young adolescents and that the company was aware of such harms.

A Meta spokesman, Andy Stone, in a statement Monday, did not address Mr. Torrez’s new request for information. He reiterated previous responses to legal actions against the company.

“Child exploitation is a horrific crime and online predators are determined criminals,” he said. “We use sophisticated technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies and law enforcement, including state attorneys general, to help root out predators.”

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Freddy Mason

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