Instagram wants to join the fight against drug addiction in the U.S.
The visual platform announced it would roll out a feature such that users searching relevant hashtags or words would be shown a pop-up message directing them to treatment and recovery resources.
The move comes as social media companies are redoubling efforts to provide meaningful value to users and rebuff criticism that they are bad for society.
Instagram says people are using the platform’s hashtags to find addiction support and communities as well as illegal drugs. So, in response, the company is rolling out a pop-up today that’ll provide users with drug addiction resources if they search certain hashtags, like “opioid.”
The user can then opt to get support resources that Instagram developed with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and the Partnership for Drug Free Kids. There will also be advice for family and friends of people with substance abuse problems.
“The opioid epidemic is an issue that affects millions of people, and we want to use our platform to offer resources to those who need it — in the places where they are seeking help. This is an important step for us in our ongoing commitment to make Instagram the kindest, safest social network,” said Karina Newton, Instagram’s head of public policy. The pop-up message will be added to more hashtags related to opioid, prescription, or illegal drugs over time, according to Instagram.
Once a user clicks on the “Get help” option, they will be redirected to an information page. The page lists services and hotlines, including the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration’s hotline, as well as SAMHSA’s treatment facility locator.
The page also offers information on how to help a loved one who might be struggling with addiction and substance abuse.
This isn’t the first time Instagram has introduced tools to promote health and safety to its users. It has also introduced tools to prevent suicide and banned some search terms linked to risky behaviors.
In 2012, Instagram rendered hashtags related to eating disorders unsearchable, causing engagement on slightly misspelled pro–eating disorder hashtags to multiply. The company eventually added a content advisory over the posts, which showed users a link to information and support for people living with eating disorders.
Then, in 2015, Instagram blocked the hashtag #curvy, only to revive it a few weeks later after user outcry. At the time, the company told BuzzFeed, “In the case of #curvy, we don’t like putting restrictions around a term that many people use in very positive ways, so we have decided to unblock the hashtag while taking steps to ensure that it’s not used as a vehicle for bad content.”
The new feature from Instagram hopes to limit drug culture on its platform without damaging the development of support groups and the ability for users to find treatment.
Instagram says that while many people use these drug-related hashtags to find support communities, others misuse them to sell drugs. In some cases, Instagram has blocked or limited these hashtags, but this prevents helpful support communities from forming, the company says.
There are already similar resources built in to Facebook. If users search for certain drug-related topics, like “buy Xanax,” they’ll get a substance support box similar to Instagram’s. The company also blocks certain searches to prevent drug dealers from reaching people.
This new Instagram pop-up attempts to solve some of the platform’s drug issues, even if it doesn’t address the actual substance sales. It does at least give users a place to go if they’re searching for help.
What do you think of Instagram’s effort, PR Daily readers?