Buying drugs on Instagram: ‘As easy as ordering a Uber’
It was as easy as ordering a Uber or an outfit from The Iconic. Except in this case, I was buying illicit drugs.
And to find them, all I needed was an Instagram account and some very obvious hashtags.
Now before this article is cut short by a wail of blue sirens and an authoritative knock on the door, allow me to clarify: no purchase was completed and the research was conducted as part of an investigation on how easy it was to score drugs on social media.
As it turns out, "easy" is an understatement.
If you've got two functioning thumbs and the digital literacy of a five-year-old, you can score over Instagram.
Dealers have their wares proudly displayed, alongside contact details. One bright spark even listed their first and last name.
There's glowing mounds of fluoro ecstasy pills, wizened piles of brown "magic" mushrooms, heads of vibrant green marijuana, and artfully arranged plates displaying satchels of white powder and rolled up notes.
The results are plentiful and it's clearly a competitive market because dealers promote their selling points.
"Lightning delivery" promises one, "fast pick and drop guaranteed" advertises another.
A private message sent to two different suppliers returned a response within minutes, confirming their location in Albany and Brisbane, and their willingness to supply.
After a brief conversation, one requested we complete the deal over wickr, an "end-to-end" encrypted app which promises to "protect your most critical communications" with "unmatched security".
The other seller confirmed they could send the illegal drugs via post and had a "95% success rate" of getting their orders to buyers through the post.
Of course, without completing the sales, I don't know if the drugs would have made it through the mail, or indeed, if the Instagram dealers even had any real drugs to sell.
There's hardly a 'Consumer Watchdog' for illegal drug activity.
However, according to Dr John Coyne, Head of Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement and Head of the North and Australia's Security at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, some dealers offer guarantees, similar to what one might expect from an established e-commerce site.
"Some people who you order off online will tell you: 'if we don't get it through the first time, you can have another lot free," Dr Coyne said.
After all, it's important to keep your customers happy.
A Facebook company spokesperson, the company which owns Instagram, confirmed the sale of illicit and pharmaceutical drugs is against "community standards" and detection technology is in use to locate drug dealing content.
According to the spokesperson, the company has taken action on 1.4 million pieces of drug-related content in the three months between April and June, 2020.
"We do not allow the sale of illicit drugs on Instagram. It is against our policies to buy, sell or trade non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs on our platform. We have been focusing on this area for some time, and we are working hard to ensure we keep illicit drug sales off Instagram. We will continue to work with experts and invest in people and technology to keep our community safe," the spokesperson said.