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Preteen Influencer’s Followers Are 92% Adult Men Who Trade Photos Of Young Kids Online: WSJ


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A Midwest mom inadvertently opened the door to a disturbing online world for her preteen daughter, who aspired to become an Instagram influencer. The girl, now in high school and an aspiring dancer, launched her account three years ago to connect with other young influencers. She has since landed modeling gigs and received freebies from major designer brands, amassing a substantial savings of approximately $20,000. However, the road to online stardom has come with a chilling dark side.

Instagram’s algorithms have steered men with deviant sexual attraction to children to the girl’s page, flooding it with unwanted comments and come-ons – just one of the many social media effects on teens. Many of these men harvest photos of young girls and trade them in dark web groups and channels on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

The girl’s follower count grew to over 100,000 within a year, and she started to get paid sponsorship offers. But she was also getting troubling replies calling her “gorgeous” or commenting on her body — primarily by a growing group of grownup male followers. Her father described these men as part of the industry’s “seedy underbelly.”

The girl’s mom has taken steps to shield her daughter on the social media effects on youth, monitoring the site and forbidding certain types of photos, including swimsuit pics. She has also blocked many of the more inappropriate commenters and followers. Despite the unwanted attention, the girl remains committed to her aspirations as a content creator, focusing on fashion inspiration and hairstyles.

Meta, the company that owns Instagram, has acknowledged the issue of online safety for young users and claims to monitor content and ban anyone under the age of 13 from opening accounts on their own. However, the report suggests that the platform’s algorithms continue to steer users towards inappropriate content, making it difficult to fully protect vulnerable young users from the predatory behavior of adult men and keep social media safety for kids.

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