It’s common knowledge that illegal and prescription drugs are sold on the streets and through overseas websites. But, who in their worst nightmare would dream that Instagram, a popular photo and video sharing social media site frequented by children and teens, would end up being a black market for illegal drug sales, and with the use of hashtags at that! Well, that’s exactly what the BBC found out during its investigation. This just goes to show how powerful social media can be when it comes to driving sales of any product.
These alarming findings come after the demise of Silk Road, a website used to illegally sell drugs. It is estimated that the site owner, Ross Ulbricht (aka “Dread Pirate Roberts”), brought in $30-$45 million yearly as a result of drug sales. The black market site was often called the “Amazon.com of illegal drugs” or the “eBay for drugs.” Fortunately, the FBI shut down the site, and Ulbricht was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. That hasn’t stopped the underground sale of drugs through social media. In fact, it most likely facilitated an increase in this ludicrous trend.
Using Instagram, drug dealers have been openly sharing photos of drugs and drug paraphernalia to promote their black market offers. Illegal and prescriptions drugs, such as marijuana, Roxicodone and Xanax, MDMA, and others have been advertised publically. These hashtags aren’t cryptic either. Photos marked with #marijuana and other hashtags have resulted in searchable lists that make it easy for junkies to find online deals. Welcome to Hash Tag 101 (pun intended.)
Instagram, touting a whopping 150 million users, has a user policy that states that illegal activities are not permitted. Up until recently, this hasn’t stopped drug dealers and cartels from taking advantage of the effective use of hashtags. Instagram has since blocked many hashtags used for drug trafficking. It will be interesting to see how drug dealers continue to find ways to sell drugs online. Heisenberg from Breaking Bad and legit business owners can stand to learn a lot from online hustlers looking for fast and easy cash.