Social media companies are once again coming under scrutiny over how they regulate content on their platforms.
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According to a new report from nonprofit Digital Citizens Alliance and GIPEC (the Global Intellectual Property Enforcement Center), drug dealers have been able to sell and market appearance and performance-enhancing substances – like steroids – on platforms including Facebook and Google-owned YouTube.
After a user searched for the drugs, “the platforms’ algorithm takes over and steroids start searching for the user,” researchers wrote. That could take the form of recommended pages, for example, containing information detailing how to contact dealers.
The “shop now” feature can make it easy for users to make purchases.
Dealers sometimes also offered access to opioids, amid an ongoing epidemic in the U.S.
Researchers noted that online markets are the most popular places to buy these appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs.
The scheme was uncovered during a six-month investigation which took place between February and July.
The problem is not new. As early as 2013, researchers found multiple YouTube videos that showed both how to use and purchase performance-enhancing drugs – which the company ultimately took down.
A spokesperson for YouTube told FOX Business in a statement that in the second quarter of 2019 alone, the company removed 90,000 videos that violated its “harmful or dangerous policy.”
“Thanks to this change, the number of views this type of content gets from recommendations has dropped by over 50% in the U.S and we’re rolling out this feature to more countries in 2019. Our systems are not perfect but we're constantly making improvements, and we remain committed to progress in this space,” Farshad Shadloo, the YouTube spokesperson, said.
A Facebook spokesperson told FOX Business the company removes content that violates its policies as soon as it becomes aware of its presence.
"Our Community Standards make it very clear that buying, selling or trading drugs, which include steroids, is not allowed anywhere on Pages, in advertising, or anywhere else on Facebook," the spokesperson said.
The study once again raises questions about how well the social media giants are able to regulate their platforms, which is something they have come under fire for in the past over things like extremist content.