By Madison Forster

The social media app, “Instagram” is a popular platform for teens and adults to share pictures and videos to their followers. It can be a great way to connect with family and friends, but an increasing risk among all social media platforms is a gateway to sex trafficking. Predators have begun using social media to create trafficking rings, and recruiting people they find.

Here are some ways that traffickers try to recruit people:

  • The trafficker finds potential victims and connects with them and tries to build a relationship. They will use their profile to find things out about them and gain personal information.
  • The trafficker may be pretending to be someone they are not. Some will pretend to be someone successful, or someone that could offer something.
  • Some traffickers may offer fake jobs like modeling, acting, singing, or anything they think will appeal to their victims.
  • The trafficker may try and build a romantic relationship with the victim by giving them compliments, sending gifts, and promises to help them with any issues they have.
  • The Trafficker may purchase tickets for the victim to travel and meet them face-to face.

Any social media platform can be a gateway to sex trafficking, but here are some red flags specifically for Instagram:

  1. “Business mode”
    If someone switches they account to a “Business account”, then their information is available for over 1 billion people to see, including their email and phone number. In hopes of teens becoming an “influencer”, they may decide to switch their account to “Business mode” to try and get brand deals. This can be risky because the amount of people who can view the Instagram account increases. “Research shows that 73% of U.S. teens say Instagram is the best way for brands to reach them about new products or promotions” (
    — Make sure your child’s Instagram account is not set to “Business mode”. The safest setting is a private account for only approved friends and family to view their account.
  1. Direct messaging
    Even with a private account, there is the potential risk of receiving direct messages on Instagram from strangers. Although nothing is stopping strangers from sending direct messages to your child, they won’t be visible to them unless they approve the request to view it. These messages will appear in “requests” where you can click on the profile and see who is trying to send a message.
    — Make sure you explain this to your child, and to not accept any messages from strangers or to show you before opening any messages. Once you approve the message, this person will be able to send you anything unless you block them.

The best way to make sure your child is using Instagram safely is to check that their account is set to “Private”, and explain the potential risks of anyone in the world being able to find their profile and communicate with them.

Where to get help:

If you believe anyone is in a trafficking situation, alert law enforcement.

  • 911 Emergency: In urgent situations, call 911
  • 1-888-373-7888 National Human Trafficking Hotline: This is a 24 hour, multilingual anti-trafficking hotline.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you know about privacy settings on Instagram?
  2. How do you feel about anyone being able to see your profile?
  3. What are some things you can think of that someone with bad intentions could do to try and talk to you? Share the information you have on the risks and what they can do to protect themselves from predators.


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