Instagram and Facebook subscriptions are getting new controls in a child protective suit

New Mexico’s attorney general, who sued Meta last year alleging it failed to protect children from sexual predators and made false claims about the safety of its platforms, announced Monday that his office will investigate how the company’s subscription services attract predators.

State Attorney Raul Torrez said he formally requested documentation from the social network about subscriptions to Facebook and Instagram, which are often available on children’s accounts run by parents.

Instagram does not allow users under the age of 13, but accounts focused entirely on children are allowed as long as they are managed by an adult. The New York Times published an investigation into influencer girls on the platform on Thursday, reporting that so-called mom-run accounts charge followers up to $19.99 a month for additional photos, as well as chats and other add-ons.

The Times found that adult men subscribe to the accounts, including those who actively participate in forums where people discuss girls sexually.

“This deeply disturbing pattern of behavior puts children at risk — and persists despite a wave of lawsuits and congressional investigations,” Torez said in a statement.

Mr. Torez filed a complaint in December accusing Meta of facilitating harmful activity between adults and minors on Facebook and Instagram and failing to detect and remove such activity when it was reported. The charges are based in part on findings from accounts created by Mr. Torrez’s office, including one for a fictitious 14-year-old girl who was offered $180,000 to appear in a pornographic video.

Although Instagram’s rules prohibit users under 18 from offering subscriptions, accounts run by moms get around that restriction.

“I found the New York Times’ coverage of Meta’s creation of a market funded by child predators to be deeply disturbing,” Mr. Torez said. “After reading The Times story, I sent Meta a new request for documents based on the alarming findings.”

Instagram introduced subscriptions in 2022. The added feature comes as social media companies compete fiercely to attract people in the so-called creator economy. Instagram doesn’t take a cut of subscription revenue, but it does benefit when influencers and other popular users choose the platform to build a fan base.

The Wall Street Journal published on Thursday that Meta staff members raised the alarm about the introduction of a subscription service. The article quotes unnamed Meta employees as saying that some parents knew they were producing content for the “sexual gratification of other adults.”

Some of these accounts include footage, behind-the-scenes photos, and other “exclusive content” in their subscription offering, which parents see as a good way to make extra money for influencer girls. Many mothers told The Times they spent countless hours blocking “creepy” men from following the accounts, which many continue to run even after their daughters become teenagers; others said that having a large number of followers was useful in promoting their daughters on Instagram.

A group of more than 40 other state attorneys general also sued Meta in state and federal court last year, alleging that its products are harmful to teenagers and young adults and that the company is aware of such harm.

Meta’s spokesman, Andy Stone, in a statement on Monday, did not address Mr. Torrez’s new request for information. He repeated earlier responses to lawsuits against the company.

“Exploitation of children is a terrible crime, and online predators are determined criminals,” he said. “We use sophisticated technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies and law enforcement agencies, including state attorneys general, to help root out predators.”

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