Last month, we wrote about some of the challenges Instagram is facing when it comes to policing drug-related hashtags. At the time, the app had recently instituted new bans against #fentanyl and #opiates, in addition to #oxycontin, that blocked search results for any of the hashtags.
The move came in response to concerns raised by the FDA and multiple senators, who argued that the lack of adequate social media prevention was helping fuel the spread of the opioid epidemic. Although Instagram's Community Guidelines forbid the sales of prescription drugs, there are still active users trying to to sell via posts with drug hashtags.
However, complete hashtag blocks, or those that limit search results, are not necessarily an effective way to deal with the problem. There are many reasons this is the case: For starters, bad actors can easily find a way around the bans, creating new hashtags in their place. The bans can also inadvertently hide posts from law enforcement and sources offering aid to those who are struggling that do not violate the app's guidelines.
"People from all over the world use hashtags, comments, and more to offer support and find communities who understand the issues they may be struggling with," Karina Newton, Instagram's head of public policy, said in a statement released today.
As a result, Instagram is taking a new approach to drug-related hashtags: Beginning today, if you search for certain opioid, prescription or illegal drug-related hashtags, a pop-up will appear with an offer to confidentially "get support." The pop-up was developed in partnership with the the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the NCADD. It includes information for friends and family members who may be seeking advice. (The person who is searching for the hashtag can still choose to "see posts anyway".)
This does not mean that the current hashtag bans are going away, though. If a hashtag is consistently abused, Instagram will still block it. The hope is that those posts that should reach individuals who are struggling — such as ones discussing support or solutions — will be able to do so.
The pop-up will roll-out in the U.S. today, and soon globally.
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