Instagram’s algorithm directly connects teens to ‘drug dealers selling everything from opioids to party drugs,’ researchers say

Instagram logo is blurred on an iPhone screen.
Instagram promoted hashtags related to the buying of illegal substances to users as young as 13, according to new research.

  • Instagram recommended hashtags related to illegal drugs to teenagers as young as 13, researchers at the Tech Transparency Project found. 
  • “The platform’s algorithms helped the underage accounts connect directly with drug dealers selling everything from opioids to party drugs,” the researchers said.
  • Instagram has faced increased scrutiny around how the platform impacts children.

Instagram recommended hashtags related to illegal substances to users as young as 13, and its algorithms led them to accounts claiming to sell drugs, including opioids and party drugs, in violation of Instagram policy, researchers found. 

Researchers at the Tech Transparency Project said they set up multiple new Instagram accounts, creating one for a 13-year-old user, two representing 14-year-old users, two for 15-year-old users, and two for 17-year-old users. According to the report, it took two clicks for the hypothetical teen accounts to access accounts that claimed to be drug dealers.

In comparison, it took researchers five clicks to log out of an account on the Instagram app. 

“Not only did Instagram allow the hypothetical teens to easily search for age-restricted and illegal drugs, but the platform’s algorithms helped the underage accounts connect directly with drug dealers selling everything from opioids to party drugs,” the Tech Transparency Project said in a news release outlining its findings. 

We prohibit drug sales on Instagram,” a Meta spokesperson told Insider on Tuesday. “We removed 1.8 million pieces of content related to drug sales in the last quarter alone, and due to our improving detection technology, the prevalence of such content is about 0.05 percent of content viewed, or about 5 views per every 10,000.

“We’ll continue to improve in this area in our ongoing efforts to keep Instagram safe, particularly for our youngest community members,” the spokesperson added.

While Instagram bans hashtags for illegal substances, researchers at the Tech Transparency Project found that the app would recommend alternative hashtags for some drugs after users typed into the Instagram search bar. 

“For example, when one of our teen users started typing the phrase ‘buyxanax’ into Instagram’s search bar, the platform started auto-filling results for buying Xanax before the user was even finished typing,” the researchers said. “When the minor clicked on one of the suggested accounts, they instantly got a direct line to a Xanax dealer. The entire process took seconds and involved just two clicks.”

Instagram said it has blocked problematic hashtags identified in the report

The “buyxanax” hashtag and other hashtags outlined in the report, including “#mdma” and “#buyfentanyl,” have since been blocked by Instagram, the Meta spokesperson told Insider, adding “we’re reviewing additional hashtags to understand if there are further violations of our policies.” 

When one of the teen accounts followed a user claiming to be a drug dealer, the app’s algorithm recommended other accounts similarly appearing to sell drugs, according to Tech Transparency Project’s report.

According to Instagram’s community guidelines, it is against policy to sell drugs on the platform. But researchers said they found that drug dealers operated “openly” on the platform and offered pills, including the opioid Oxycontin.  

“Many of these dealers mention drugs directly in their account names to advertise their services,” the researchers said.

Instagram in July announced that all Instagram accounts for users aged 16 years old or younger would be set to private by default, but researchers found that only accounts set up using the Instagram mobile app, and not Instagram’s website, were set to private. 

These findings come as Instagram, and its parent company Meta (formerly Facebook), face increasing scrutiny for how the platform affects minors. 

The company on Tuesday announced it was rolling out new safety features for teenagers, including tools to help users spend less time on the app, have fewer unwanted interactions with adults and sensitive content, and allow parents to have more oversight of their children’s accounts, NPR reported. 

The announcement came just one day before Instagram head Adam Mosseri is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the US Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security. Mosseri is expected to be questioned about Instagram’s influence on young users.

In October, former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen said Facebook had internal data that showed Instagram was toxic to teenagers, and particularly young girls. Internal Facebook researcher provided by Haugen showed 13.5% of teen girls said Instagram worsened suicidal thoughts and 17% of teenage girls said Instagram contributed to eating disorders, NPR reported.

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How Tom Ward’s YouTube side hustle became the go-to interview for influencers and YouTubers

Tom Ward interviewed Emma Chamberlain in September 2018, before many mainstream outlets took notice of her.
Tom Ward interviewed Emma Chamberlain in September 2018, before many mainstream outlets took notice of her.

  • Tom Ward’s impressive roster of interviews has turned him into an influencer whisperer.
  • “Normal sales guy” by day, Ward spoke to Insider about his unique path to celebrity interviewing.
  • By taking creators seriously as entrepreneurs, Ward said he was accepted into their ranks. 

Apart from paparazzi ambushes and the occasional red carpet interview, it can be tough to secure more than a few minutes with an A-List influencer like Emma Chamberlain or Bryce Hall — unless you’re Tom Ward, in which case, the influencer is probably trying to talk to you. 

Ward doesn’t anchor a primetime news show or host a national radio slot. He has his own YouTube channel, “The Tom Ward Show,” where Ward has hours of interviews with top creators like David Dobrik, Addison Rae, Logan Paul, Valkyrae, and Bella Thorne.

In early November 2021, Ward told Insider that a publicist for a TikTok star with more than 10 million followers reached out to him for a YouTube interview. The same week, “Catfish” host Nev Schulman sat down with Ward for a chat. And interviewing isn’t even Ward’s full-time job. 

“The whole thing is so bizarre,” Ward said. “This kid reached out on TikTok asking me to interview him and he was like ‘I’ve been watching your interviews since I was in grade school.'”

Ward’s unique position in the celebrity influencer sphere — as well as his path getting there — demonstrate how the gap in influencer coverage from mainstream news outlets in the 2010s gave outsiders who took the field seriously a chance to establish a foothold in the now $14 billion industry.

Ward took advantage of Forbes’ freelance writing gigs 

By day, Ward still works in sales, as an account manager for the industrial equipment company Illinois Tool Works. But in 2015, determined to take his career in a new direction, Ward started blogging on his personal website. He wrote about marketing, business, and success — his first post to go viral was a list of legendary music producer Rick Rubin’s life lessons. Actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba shared Ward’s post on LinkedIn.

Afterward, Ward said he got connected with an editor at Forbes, who recruited him as a freelance contributor for the website. Ward told Insider that he had no other writing experience at the time, but took the opportunity.

“I was like ‘Can I do this?’ But then I thought ‘Anyone can write an 800-word article with bullet points,'” he said. “It all came from Forbes, because that allowed me to get in a room with anybody.”

By early 2017, Ward started blogging about influencer marketing for Forbes, although he didn’t follow YouTubers or YouTube culture at the time. His email started overflowing with PR pitches, and one caught his eye.

“A guy reached out and said ‘I’ve got this client named Jake Paul,'” Ward said. “I looked him up and thought ‘Who is this kid with 20 million followers who I’ve never even heard of?'”

Ward drove to the now-infamous YouTuber’s $7 million “Team 10” mansion and noticed a horde of kids outside, sitting on the front lawn. When he asked what they were doing, they told him they were waiting for a chance to see Paul. More intrigued than ever, Ward said he interviewed Paul about business in Paul’s garage for more than an hour.

“The thing that was very different than interviewing a traditional celebrity was Jake gave me his phone number,” Ward said. “And he said ‘Hey, when you post the article, text me the link and I’ll share it.'”

When Paul tweeted Ward’s article and Ward’s Twitter handle, Ward said his phone started “blowing up.” Within ten minutes, his interview had more clicks than any other article Ward had written before. When his article surpassed 100,000 clicks, Ward knew he had to pay close attention to the YouTube world. 

To establish his personal brand, Ward started filming interviews

Ward still writes for Forbes, and his most recent article is an interview with the head of TV at TikTok star Josh Richards’ company CrossCheck Studios. But having a Forbes byline wasn’t the end goal of Ward’s new career. 

“It drives me crazy when you’re watching a movie trailer and it says ‘Forbes said this was the best movie of the year.’ Forbes didn’t say that, some writer did! If I’m that guy, I’m not even on the screen,” Ward said. “I didn’t want to be an anonymous writer, that’s not fun. I wanted to make a name for myself.”

After he published his interview with Paul, Ward started interviewing even bigger YouTubers and influencers, like Shane Dawson and Lele Pons. Then, he started filming himself interviewing them.

“At the time I was doing it, no one was. Everyone looked at these kids like a joke,” Ward told Insider. “I have coworkers who make fun of me behind my back, like ‘What is this guy doing? Does he think he’s some kind of Instagram star?’ They don’t get it, and at the time no one got it.”

Now, Ward’s YouTube channel has more than 5.3 million views, and his easy rapport with influencers has led to even bigger opportunities, like co-hosting a branding-focused podcast with TikToker Griffin Johnson. 

Views still aren’t Ward’s endgame. In 2019, when he started posting clips from his interviews on TikTok, he noticed that Q&A clips about the teen stars’ dating lives got the most views. But, being their dads’ age, Ward said he lets tea channels cover drama. His niche is the business of influencing.

“They’re a lot more savvy than people give them credit for,” Ward told Insider. “For me, it wasn’t about clout-chasing, or anything like that. I was just fascinated and wanted to figure out how it worked. I took them seriously, and that’s why I think they accepted me.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Facebook recommended QAnon groups to a new user within 2 days of joining the platform, according to a new whistleblower report

qanon
Facebook recommended a new user to join groups for the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon within two days of her joining the platform, according to a new whistleblower report obtained by NBC News.

  • Details from leaked internal Facebook documents were reported on Monday by several news outlets.
  • One document, “Carol’s Journey to QAnon,” reportedly shows how a new user found QAnon content.
  • A researcher reportedly said the user faced “a barrage of extreme, conspiratorial” content.

Facebook recommended QAnon groups to a new user within two days of them joining the platform, according to leaked internal research documents reportedly obtained by NBC News.

A Facebook researcher created the account for that fictional user, positioned as a Christian mother from Wilmington, North Carolina, named “Carol Smith,” according to NBC News, which said they reviewed the leaked document.

The leaked document showed that Carol Smith had an affinity for politics and parenting, liked pages for former President Donald Trump and Fox News, and had shown zero interest in conspiracy theories before getting pushed toward QAnon content during the experiment in the summer of 2019, NBC News reported. The research, entitled “Carol’s Journey to QAnon,” was used to track how Facebook’s recommendation algorithm could polarize and misinform users, according to NBC News.

QAnon is a web of baseless conspiracy theories that began with the false claim that Trump was fighting against a cabal of “deep state” human traffickers. Believers of QAnon have been accused of several crimes, involving murder and kidnapping, as Insider has reported.

The document is part of the so-called Facebook Papers, an array of thousands of pages of internal documents reportedly obtained by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former product manager in Facebook’s civic integrity division. Haugen initially disclosed documents to The Wall Street Journal, which began reporting on the papers in September. An organized group of 17 United States news organizations said they reviewed the papers and published a slew of reports on the leaked internal documents on Monday morning.

Insider did not obtain the documents.

Though Carol Smith did not join any of the QAnon groups she was initially recommended, the algorithm “pushed ahead” with its recommendations, NBC News reported. Within a week, the user’s feed was packed with pages and groups that violated Facebook’s own hate speech and disinformation guidelines, the leaked research showed, as reported by NBC News.

Carol Smith’s Facebook feed became “a barrage of extreme, conspiratorial, and graphic content,” the researcher reportedly wrote in the leaked document.

A Facebook spokesperson told NBC News in a statement that this research “helped inform” the decision to ban QAnon from the platform. The company announced in August 2020 that it was taking action against and removing groups that pose “significant risks to public safety,” including targeting QAnon groups, pages, and accounts that promoted violence. In October 2020, as other social media companies including YouTube and Twitter took stronger stances on QAnon, the company expanded its policy to ban all non-violent QAnon accounts across all its platforms.

When Haugen revealed her identity as the Facebook whistleblower in a “60 Minutes” interview on October 3, she alleged that Facebook promotes extremist content and pushes unsuspecting right-wing users toward far-right conspiracy theories.

During Haugen’s testimony before a United States Senate Commerce subcommittee on October 5, she accused the platform of destabilizing democracy, making women and young girls feel bad about their bodies, and prioritizing profit over everything else. She also said that no one holds CEO Mark Zuckerberg “accountable but himself” and suggested that the federal government create an official body to oversee and regulate platforms like Facebook, as Insider reported.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to Haugen’s claims about the platform in a 1,300-word statement on his Facebook page later that day, saying “many of the claims don’t make any sense” and denying that the company “prioritize[s] profit over safety and well-being.”

Read more stories from Insider’s Digital Culture desk.

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Hooters adjusts policy to make controversial new uniform optional for employees after outcry over skimpy new shorts that are ‘like underwear’

TikTok stills
  • Hooters of America announced it will make its new revealing shorts optional for employees.
  • The policy change comes on the heels of a series of viral TikToks of staffers speaking out against the uniform.
  • “They can determine which style of shorts best fits their body style and personal image,” a Hooters spokesperson told Insider.

Hooters is adjusting its uniform policy to make its controversial new shorts optional in response to outcry from employees on social media.

According to a spokesperson for Hooters of America, staffers will now be permitted to choose between the new shorts – which some have described as so skimpy they’re “like underwear” – and the original longer shorts.

“As we continue to listen and update the image of the Hooters Girls, we are clarifying that they have the option to choose from traditional uniforms or the new ones,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to Insider. “They can determine which style of shorts best fits their body style and personal image.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a series of viral TikTok videos shared by employees this week speaking out against the shorts, which some feel are too revealing. The shorts are the latest in a history of complaints lodged against the company for sexualization and degradation of women since its founding in 1983.

“Soooo Hooters got new panties. I mean shorts,” wrote one TikTok user. “Love my job but don’t love wearing undies to work,” wrote another.

@sick.abt.it

love my job but dont love wearing undies to work ☠️ ##hootersgirl @Kirsten 🙂

♬ Jenna_Did_it – Chy

In its statement, Hooters of America wrote that it “appreciates the feedback, both positive and negative, regarding a more accommodating and inclusive image policy on tattoos, jewelry, nails, hairstyles as well as new uniform options – to include new top styles, shorts, and the addition of socks.”

The backlash reflects a growing trend of retail employees taking to social media to air their grievances and push for better working conditions. In recent months, staffers at companies everywhere from Starbucks to Apple have turned to social platforms to challenge employers and call for change.

Hooters of America, the franchisor and operator of Hooters restaurants, operates more than 420 franchise locations across 42 states and 29 countries. There are also an additional 25 locations owned separately by the Original Hooters Group, which uses similar branding but did not participate in the uniform change.

According to the spokesperson, the shorts were “the result of a collaboration with Hooters Girls and have been worn for months in several Texas markets with overwhelmingly positive feedback.” Since debuting in select Texas locations, the shorts have since expanded to other states.

On TikTok, some staffers defended the shorts, with one claiming that she made “way more money” while wearing them. Another wrote that she was “obsessed” with the shorts while one user wrote “Am I the only Hootie that loves the new shorts???”

Looking ahead, Hooters of America said it plans to continue to work with employees and give them opportunities for “providing input at every stage including future clothing items and accessories.”

“We’re excited to see a national trend toward self-expression and inclusivity that bodes well for our marketplace,” the spokesperson wrote in the email. “We work continuously with our Hooters Girls to refresh and update the image of our brand ambassadors and to empower them to feel their best while at work.”

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A Twitch streamer who has been linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory appears to have made $150,000 in 2 years on the platform, according to leaked data

QAnon
  • On Wednesday, an anonymous user leaked purported Twitch data, including earnings, about streamers.
  • Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, or Tore Says, was linked to QAnon by The New York Times.
  • The streamer appears to have made tens of thousands of dollars from the platform since 2019.

A recent data breach shows that a Twitch streamer with links to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory appears to have made more than $150,000 from the platform since 2019, according to an analysis conducted by a security researcher.

On Wednesday, an anonymous user posted a torrent file on the fringe message board 4chan for a 125-gigabyte folder full of purported Twitch data. The file, which was no longer available to view on 4chan as of Thursday afternoon, circulated widely and spawned numerous memes and viral tweets.

Twitch confirmed on Twitter and in a statement to Insider on Wednesday that a breach had occurred, saying that “teams are working with urgency to understand the extent of this.” The platform has not confirmed whether any of the data leaked in the breach is accurate.

The leaked file, reviewed by Insider, contains a folder called “twitch-payouts,” which holds another folder called “all-revenues.” Within that folder, there are dozens of subfolders containing spreadsheets that appear to include information about how much streamers have earned through subscriptions to their channel, advertisements people have watched on their broadcasts, and “bits,” which are virtual tokens that people can purchase and use to write special messages in a streamer’s chat.

All the streamers are listed on the spreadsheets by numerical IDs, which Twitch assigns to every user. The numerical IDs can be traced back to verbal names, or account handles, using websites such as StreamWeasles.

A security researcher told Insider that the data included in the file shows the streamer Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman appears to have earned over $150,000 on Twitch since August 2019.

Maras-Lindeman, a podcaster who broadcasts on Twitch under the handle “Tore Says,” has over 24,000 followers on the streaming platform. She has used the QAnon slogan “where we go one, we go all” in past live streams and has sometimes switched out the “O” in her username for an image of a “Q,” according to The New York Times, which listed her in an article in April as one of several far-right extremists finding success on Twitch.

QAnon has become a sprawling network of baseless, far-right conspiracy theories, but began with the false claim that then-President Donald Trump was fighting to take down a “deep state” cabal of human traffickers. Its popularity has been amplified by influencers and podcasters who promote it to their followers.

Maras-Lindeman has also encouraged her viewers to go into stores without wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, The Times reported.

The researcher, who releases cybersecurity-related reports under the Substack newsletter Trapezoid of Discovery, said they wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns. Insider verified their real name and background and viewed screenshots of the researcher’s data.

The researcher said they created a code command that automatically combed through the various files, matching ToreSays’ numerical ID to IDs on the spreadsheets and adding up the revenue amounts.

“I aggregated the data from the files in the Twitch-payouts directory,” they explained over Twitter.

Maras-Lindeman appears to have made a majority of her Twitch income since August 2019 ($109,000) through users subscribing to her channel, according to the researcher’s report, screenshots of which they also posted on Twitter.

Insider did not fully replicate this researcher’s data compilation method but found that Maras-Linderman appears to have made $5018.52 in the month of January 2021, according to the purported data. If this amount were consistent over the course of a year, she would make $60,222.24 annually.

Maras-Lindeman also has a YouTube account, “Tore Says Show,” with over 16,000 subscribers, and a personal blog, where she has written at least one post sharing the false conspiracy theory that President Joe Biden did not fairly win the 2020 United States election.

The purported payments do not include the money she has earned through her Patreon, YouTube ad revenue, or other kinds of donations. Fans gave her $84,000 in non-Twitch donations for a birthday, according to The Times’ report.

Twitch did not respond to a request for additional comment regarding these findings.

Maras-Linderman did not respond to a request for comment.

Read more stories from Insider’s Digital Culture desk.

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A Democratic senator mistook the slang word ‘finsta’ for one of Facebook’s products in a hearing with the company

Instagram logo on phone
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation held a hearing on Thursday regarding Facebook’s, Instagram, and mental health, spurred on by a Wall Street Journal investigation about what Facebook knows about the impact of Instagram on young users.

  • The Senate Commerce Committee held a Thursday hearing about Facebook, Instagram, and mental health.
  • Sen. Blumental of Connecticut asked if Facebook would “commit to banning Finsta.”
  • “Finstas,” secret accounts some teens make, are not an official Facebook product.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday regarding Facebook’s research on the impact of Instagram on young girls, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis if the company would “commit to ending Finsta.” With the comment, he appeared to mistake the term for a Facebook product, when it’s actually a slang term for secret accounts that some teens create to limit the audience of certain posts.

Sen. Blumental asked Davis about “finsta towards the end of the hearing (at the 2:44:50 mark in the publicly available webcast). A clip of the interaction, uploaded by news curation editor Eric Morrow of BuzzFeed News, began to circulate on Twitter.

“Finsta” (fake Instagram) is a slang term used to refer to smaller, side accounts that people – frequently teenagers – make on Instagram. The accounts are typically used to broadcast content for small audiences like close friends, as opposed to sharing information or photos with wider audiences on users’ main accounts that could be followed by acquaintances or family members. “Finsta” is not a Facebook product, nor a clearly demarcated feature on Instagram – it’s simply a secondary account that people create, which has become a cultural trend.

“We don’t actually do ‘finsta.’ What ‘finsta’ refers to is young people setting up accounts where they may want to have more privacy,” Davis said, explaining that finstas aren’t necessary made to secure privacy from parents, but rather to limit audiences in certain cases.

“‘Finsta’ is one of your products or services. We’re not talking about Google, or Apple, it’s Facebook, correct?” Blumenthal asked.

Davis explained again that the term is slang for a particular kind of account, to which Sen. Blumenthal asked again if Facebook would commit to ending them.

“I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking,” Davis said.

Blumenthal had previously opened a line of questioning regarding “finstas” during the hearing, saying that they were frequently created with the intent to “avoid parents’ oversight” and alleging that Facebook was “monetizing kids deceiving their parents,” raising concerns regarding parental oversight.

The hearing, convened by Sen. Blumenthal, who is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, came in the wake Wall Street Journal investigation that revealed that Facebook knew the impact that its photo-sharing and commerce platform Instagram had on teen girls. In a blog post, Facebook argued against the Journal’s characterization of the research that formed the basis for the story. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal published six of the documents it based its investigation on.

The Wall Street Journal reported that internal Facebook research documents said that “teens’ growing use of secondary accounts and ‘Finstas’ suggest a strong market product fit for exploring different sides of themselves and interests.”

Read more stories from Insider’s Digital Culture desk.

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Instagram says it did not remove Britney Spears’ account after the singer’s profile mysteriously disappeared

Singer Britney Spears arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New York, U.S., August 28, 2016.
Singer Britney Spears arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New York, U.S., August 28, 2016.

  • Britney Spears’ Instagram account was deactivated on Tuesday without explanation.
  • Instagram told Insider that the platform didn’t take action against the account.
  • According to Spears’ Twitter, she is taking a social media break to celebrate her engagement.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Britney Spears’ Instagram account is gone and it’s not entirely clear why. Instagram did not take action against her account on Tuesday, the Facebook-owned company told Insider.

But shortly after posting about the “Free Britney” movement, Spears’ account, which had 34 million followers, was taken down from the platform.

A tweet sent from Spears’ verified Twitter account says she is taking a social media break to celebrate her engagement to fiancé Sam Asghari.

Page Six reported on Tuesday that it was Spears’ personal choice to take a social media break, citing an anonymous source who told the outlet that “silence can be a powerful thing and a powerful message.”

Spears’ attorney Matthew Rosengart also told Page Six that the deactivation was his client’s decision. Rosengart didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Spears’ father Jamie filed a petition last Tuesday, September 7, to end her conservatorship. The tightly controlled arrangement, in which Jamie controls his daughter’s estate, financial assets, and some personal assets, has drawn global scrutiny. In June, Spears called the conservatorship “abusive.”

Britney Spears' Instagram profile after it deactivated on Tuesday (L); Spears' last post before her Instagram was deactivated.
Britney Spears’ Instagram profile after it deactivated on Tuesday (L); Spears’ last post before her Instagram was deactivated.

Previously, The New Yorker reported that Spears typically writes her own Instagram captions and selects her own photos and videos for posts, citing Spears’ management team. Spears then sends posts to a company called CrowdSurf to upload her posts, according to the New Yorker report.

“She’s not supposed to discuss the conservatorship,” a member of Spears’ team told the publication.

Spears’ last post before her account was deactivated did discuss her conservatorship, and used the hashtag “#FreeBritney,” like many of her recent posts did. The star wrote that she grew up in a world “where basically almost everything I did was controlled by someone else.”

“I’ve waited 13 years and counting for my freedom,” Spears wrote in the caption of her last post.

Read more at Insider’s developing story: Britney Spears’ Instagram account just disappeared after she posted about ‘#FreeBritney’

Read the original article on Business Insider

Spotify airs Joe Rogan podcast touting ivermectin as part of his COVID-19 treatment, despite the FDA calling it ‘dangerous’

Joe Rogan
Spotify aired Joe Rogan’s recent podcast episode where he defended his use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

  • Spotify aired Joe Rogan’s recent podcast touting ivermectin as part of his COVID-19 recovery.
  • The FDA and CDC have issued warnings against using the antiparasitic drug to treat COVID-19.
  • Rogan has a history of making explosive comments on his podcast.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Spotify aired Joe Rogan’s podcast touting ivermectin as part of his COVID-19 treatment, despite the Food and Drug Association (FDA) calling the drug “dangerous” in large doses and warning people not to use it to treat the disease.

On September 1, the “Joe Rogan Experience” host and UFC commentator drew backlash for announcing in an Instagram video that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was using the antiparasitic drug ivermectin to treat the illness.

“We immediately threw the kitchen sink at [the illness], all kinds of meds,” Rogan said in the Instagram clip, which has amassed over 6.5 million views. Rogan has over 13 million followers on the platform.

He then listed a number of drugs, including ivermectin, monoclonal antibodies, an antibiotic, and a steroid, that he took to treat his diagnosis.

A post shared by Joe Rogan (@joerogan)

The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both issued warnings about the dangers of using ivermectin, which is commonly used as a horse dewormer and has been adopted by people trying to self-treat coronavirus infections. The drug has been approved to treat some conditions in humans, like head lice, but COVID-19 is not one of them.

Ivermectin-related calls to poison control centers have increased during the pandemic, especially in summer 2021, when the drug made headlines. The dewormer can be toxic in large quantities, causing overdose symptoms including hallucinations, blurred vision, and even seizures.

On Tuesday’s new podcast episode, which aired on Spotify, Rogan spoke out against negative news coverage of the announcement and defended his use of ivermectin.

“Bro, do I have to sue CNN? They’re making shit up,” Rogan said on the podcast, appearing to reference CNN coverage criticizing his Instagram statement. Later in the episode, Rogan specifically mentioned CNN anchor Jim Acosta as someone who criticized his ivermectin use, although Insider was not able to verify whether Acosta did a segment on the podcast host.

“I literally got [the ivermectin] from a doctor. It’s an American company. They won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for use in human beings,” Rogan said on the podcast.

The scientists who discovered ivermectin did win a Nobel Prize in 2015 – for reducing the incidence of the parasitic diseases ivermectin is meant to treat.

Some people have obtained off-label prescriptions for ivermectin from doctors, with dispensed prescriptions increasing up to 24-fold from pre-pandemic times.

Others have found creative ways to self-medicate. A recent CDC report described two ivermectin-related hospitalizations: one patient consumed injectable ivermectin meant for horses, and the other took ivermectin tablets of unknown strength purchased online.

Taking doses meant for large animals increases the risk of overdose and unpleasant side effects. Again, no health agency recommends ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

Rogan, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has a long history of sparking outrage for making explosive remarks on his podcast. In an April episode of the podcast, Rogan spread misinformation about COVID-19 and discouraged young people from getting the vaccine, although he later recanted his remarks, as Insider previously reported.

joe rogan experience
Joe Rogan hosts “The Joe Rogan Experience,” a popular podcast.

In a September 2020 podcast segment, Rogan made transphobic comments about Caitlyn Jenner, falsely speculating that living with the Kardashian women somehow influenced her identity as a transgender woman.

Journalist Matt Flegenheimer called Rogan “one of the most consumed media products” in the world and someone who has “the power to shape tastes, politics, medical decisions” in an article for The New York Times in July.

In May 2020, Rogan inked an estimated $100 million deal with Spotify to exclusively stream “The Joe Rogan Experience” on the streaming platform, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The show has ranked as the most popular podcast every month since it arrived on the streaming platform in September 2020, a spokesperson for the company previously told Insider.

A Spotify representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Austin McBroom’s lawyer said there’s no way they’ll see profits from the influencer boxing match that some fighters said left them unpaid

Bryce Hall and Austin McBroom fight during LiveXLive’s "Social Gloves: Battle Of The Platforms"
Influencers Bryce Hall and Austin McBroom fight at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium during LiveXLive’s “Social Gloves: Battle Of The Platforms” on June 12, 2021.

  • An influencer boxing event took place on June 12 and some of the contestants say they were not paid.
  • Two production companies are each placing the blame on the other.
  • The lead attorneys for Simply Greatness Productions and LiveXLive explain their lawsuits.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

An influencer boxing event took place on June 12, but some of the famous contestants say they have yet to be paid.

Now, an explosive legal battle is afoot between the two companies who produced the pay-per-view competition special – and one lawyer says there’s a chance nobody will see profits from the event at all.

Austin McBroom, who is part of the “ACE Family” YouTube vlog channel he shares with his wife Catherine Paiz McBroom and their three children, was the mastermind behind “Social Gloves: Battle of the Platforms.” He fought as a headliner in the YouTubers vs. TikTokers boxing matches and he also runs Simply Greatness Productions (SGP), which hired another media company, LiveXLive, to help co-produce the show.

SGP and LiveXLive have filed lawsuits against each other after the event failed to live up to financial expectations set by the success of other fights featuring influencers such as Logan Paul vs. Floyd Mayweather on June 6.

Over one month later, some of the fighters say they haven’t been paid the millions they were offered, according to LivexLive’s lawsuit. Brooklyn Nets star James Harden who invested $2 million says he hasn’t made any money either, Page Six reported.

Simply Greatness Productions says they think LiveXLive is not being transparent about how much money they made

DDG walks out to his fight during LiveXLive’s "Social Gloves: Battle Of The Platforms"
DDG heads to the ring after the stadium begins playing his correct entrance song.

SGP is suing LiveXLive, alleging breach of contract and fraud. SGP is accusing LiveXLive of selling endorsements and sponsorship agreements that SGP was not aware of, and spending money that would not be returned.

SGP and McBroom are also placing blame on their former business partner Paul Cazers, whom they say over-exaggerated his experience in the entertainment industry, according to the lawsuit. Cazers did not respond to a request for comment.

Just hours after that suit was filed on July 21, LiveXLive filed its own lawsuit in return against SGP and the McBrooms for $100 million – a figure largely derived from potential damage to their reputation in the industry, according to the suit.

James Sammataro, a partner at Pryor Cashman LLP and the lead attorney for SGP’s suit, said in an interview with Insider that because of LiveXLive’s financial decisions, nobody involved would see a profit.

“Quite frankly, we’ll never see that,” Sammataro said of the 75% of the profits SGP was supposed to receive. “I think we are realistic enough to realize that we’re not at the point that there’s ever going to be any profits for this event.”

That may mean some of the influencers who fought in the event won’t be paid in full: AnEsonGib, VinnieHacker, DDG, FaZe Jarvis, Landon McBroom, Ryan Johnston, Bryce Hall, Tayler Holder, Deji, Nate Wyatt, Michael Le, Ben Azelart, and Cale Saurage. Those influencers did not respond to requests for comment.

But Insider’s Dan Whateley previously reported that one fighter’s manager, who requested anonymity to avoid damaging their relationship with the event organizers, said they had no issues with payment.

Austin Mcboom and Bryce Hall fight in the Battle of the Platforms
The Battle of the Platforms promotional poster.

LiveXLive kept asking for more and more money and went over budget “by millions,” Sammataro alleged, with the promise that the end result would deliver a bigger profit.

But the several billion supposed social-media impressions did not translate to a major sale of pay-per-view subscriptions for the event. Pay-per-view packages started at $49.99 and went up to $89.99 if viewers wanted to purchase extras such as shows or an NFT (a non-fungible token).

In the end, the event only sold 136,000 subscriptions. But Jeffrey Katz, a senior partner at Watkins & Letofsky, LLP, the lead attorney representing LiveXLive, told Insider that LiveXLive warned McBroom and SPG that they would not break 200,000 purchases if they didn’t follow through with the marketing strategy they had outlined.

“LiveXLive said, we are telling you right now, that if you do not improve your marketing strategy, you will not break 200,000,” Katz told Insider. “And they rejected it. Sheer and utter hubris on the part of the McBrooms.”

McBroom has “dug himself an enormous hole” by refusing to implement the marketing strategy put forward by LiveXLive’s experienced team, thinking he could sell tickets based on his social-media following alone, Katz said.

YouTube creator Austin McBroom leans over the ring after a boxing match at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on June 12, 2021
YouTube creator Austin McBroom celebrates after his fight during the “Social Gloves” boxing event in Miami on June 12, 2021.

According to Sammataro, it is unclear why more viewers did not end up paying for the event, and that’s one question SGP and McBroom want to be answered by the lawsuit. He said it could be as simple as TikTok users not being accustomed or willing to pay for something, as TikTok is a free app.

“Three and a half billion impressions, all the media buzz that was surrounding this, didn’t convert to pay per view sales,” he said. “Maybe it was priced too high. Maybe the execution wasn’t done right. Maybe it was pirated. Maybe it wasn’t marketed and promoted properly, or maybe there’s something sinister going on.”

But still, SGP said that LiveXLive is not being transparent enough about how much money the event made.

“We know there’s not enough money to cover everyone, but we think there’s more money than has been reported,” Sammataro said. “So the truth is somewhere in the middle.”

LiveXLive will not release the funds until the lawsuits are resolved, Sammataro said. Until then, SGP cannot know how much each fighter will be paid – and the company is trying to avoid bankruptcy, he said.

LiveXLive has filed a defamation lawsuit against the McBrooms and Simply Greatness Productions for $100 million

Catherine McBroom in a boxing ring.

LiveXLive’s return lawsuit against McBroom and SGP seeks $100 million in damages.

Katz told Insider that LiveXLive actually does have the funds to pay talent in full. But he said the challenge in releasing them is that the McBrooms and SGP “sold people a bag of lies.”

“The McBrooms and their entire approach to this event was built upon a stack of lies, lies that even LiveXLive fell victim to,” he said.

The company was approached with a marketing deck by McBroom, which showed he expected the event to make $225 million based on the fighters’ followings on YouTube and TikTok, according to Katz.

SGP approached LiveXLive in crisis because their partnership with streaming platform Live Nation had fallen through and they had no venue for the event, Katz said. This was when LiveXLive stepped in at SGP’s request and procured business deals and secured the Hard Rock Stadium, he said.

Austin and Catherine McBroom at the boxing event.
Catherine Paiz and Austin McBroom.

When the final numbers came in, SGP tried to flip the narrative, according to Katz, and accused LiveXLive of “lying and cheating and diverting sales.”

“That is the basis in part to the complaint that LiveXLive has brought,” he said. “We’re a public company. Our reputation is important. We are followed by the market. We are followed by investors. If we get a reputation of lying to our clients that is death to us.”

LiveXLive’s stock price has dropped from $4.81 to $3.69 since June 12.

Katz could not say how the total profits from the event compared to McBroom’s initial estimate of $225 million, but he called the loss “substantial.”

Insider has seen a letter from a bankruptcy attorney hired by SGP, saying that it has been enlisted to represent SGP in working out the claims of all its creditors or, “if a workout is not feasible, a likely bankruptcy filing.”

Katz said LiveXLive has tried every avenue to avoid going to court, but the company is stuck in a “Gordian knot” until SGP cooperates. He said the time leading up to the impending court cases “will be very telling.”

“It’s come to this legal battle because they’ve put themselves in a position where they’re extremely desperate,” he said.

“So what they’re doing is – and this is not atypical and what I see in my business – they’ve chosen to become victim and to deflect blame.”

Read more stories from Insider’s Digital Culture team.

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Early internet star turned celebrity Andy Milonakis revolutionized live streaming and virality, but he still has regrets

andy milonakis
Andy Milonakis.

  • Andy Milonakis is 45 now but shows no signs of slowing down.
  • Since creating his own television show in 2003, he’s been a rapper, actor, performer, and live streamer.
  • A pioneer of the internet age, Milonakis feels he gets “judged” for his appearance.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Andy Milonakis has spent the past two months in the mountains on the island of Crete, Greece at his grandparent’s house. Almost every day, he livestreams the gorgeous landscape to thousands of viewers on Twitch.

The 45-year-old television star, content creator, rapper, influencer, and comedian has managed to keep his career alive for nearly two decades after he went viral pre-YouTube. Listing his accomplishments sounds a bit like you created a career with a random generator: he achieved mainstream success on MTV with “The Andy Milonakis Show,” voiced a microwave in a children’s television show, started a rap group with actor Simon Rex, and pioneered real-world live-streaming on Twitch.

Insider spoke to Milonakis about his career, how he got his start live streaming on Twitch and what he hopes he can achieve in this next phase of his career.

Milonakis was the first viral star to get his own television show

Milonakis was born in 1976 in Katonah, New York with a congenital growth hormone deficiency that gives him the appearance and voice of an adolescent.

After high school he moved to Queens in the late 90s and dabbled in the world of comedy, taking improv and writing classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater while working in tech support at an accounting firm as a day job.

In the late 90s, he was an early participant in internet comedy with his “child actor” website, where he posted photos of himself “making really weird faces” and wrote with “really bad grammar that’s misspelled on purpose to just make me seem totally out of my mind.”

“Back then, nobody succeeded making comedy on the internet, it wasn’t even a thing,” Milonakis said.

Brian Lynch, the future screenwriter of “Minions” and “Hop” invited him to be a part of his website AngryNakedPat.com in “1999 or 2000” Milonakis recalls. By the early 2000s, before YouTube was founded, Milonakis had posted over 100 videos on the site. In 2003, he was debating giving up on the videos because they weren’t getting many views] but he felt the sudden urge to purchase a plastic ukulele from a lady selling them from a shopping cart.

“My friends invited me to a Superbowl game and I just, I didn’t really like sports. So I was like, I’m going to make a video about it,” Milonakis recalls.

Filmed on a grainy webcam, Milonakis changed his life trajectory after he posted his breakout viral hit, “The Superbowl is Gay.” The three-minute clip of Milonakis calling everything from DVDs to McDonald’s “gay,” outdated and somewhat offensive humor by today’s standards, went viral at the time. Radio stations across the country contacted Milonakis for interviews.

One of those original viewers was Jimmy Kimmel, who had started hosting his Jimmy Kimmel Live show and found an affinity for the comedic actor. Over the next couple of years, Milonakis would make guest appearances on the talk show, with Kimmel saying in a 2005 Washington Post article that “his comedy is something that probably would have been around a long time ago if kids had access to video cameras and editing machines and the Internet.”

Kimmel’s endorsement led directly to MTV, according to Milonakis. An executive had been badgering Kimmel for a television show to pitch, which started as scrounged together clips from the web and Jimmy Kimmel Live. With the talk show host spearheading the pitching process, it led to a pilot, which was one of 20 vying for a spot to be made into a television show. Milonakis’ show eventually won out.

The Andy Milonakis Show premiered on MTV in 2005 and ran for three seasons. The show was an absurdist, surrealist nightmare that used random people as actors. Man on the street segments where he plays up his childish persona are intertwined with celebrity appearances from early aught icons like Hillary Duff and Lil Jon.

The show was a massive success and turned Milonakis into a traditional celebrity. Over the next two decades he made appearances or lent his voice to shows like Adventure Time, The Kroll Show, and Crank Yankers. But ultimately the world of TV wouldn’t be where he made his biggest and longest impact.

He appeared on Snoop Dogg’s internet news show, hosted his own YouTube cooking show called “Andy’s Hungry Voyage,” and had a fairly successful rap career.

Milonakis’ YouTube channel has half a million subscribers and has pulled in over 100 million views since it was created in 2006. “G L O G A N G,” his 2015 music video featuring Chief Keef has over five million views and his group Three Loco with Riff Raff and actor Simon Rex has over 10 million views across their dozen or so videos from 2012.

Andy joined Twitch and pioneered the world of IRL streaming

In 2016, Milonakis started to gain renewed attention with his Twitch streams. After initially streaming PS4 and PC games, Milonakis turned to “Pokemon Go,” the highly successful mobile game where users capture Pokemon by exploring the real world.

On that first stream, Milonakis recalls, he went from “a couple hundred viewers to 1,200.” Over the next year, he’d gain 200,000 followers, who watched him order tacos, walk around Los Angeles, and hang out with other streamers.

Milonakis quickly fell into a crew of influencers who streamed on Twitch’s “IRL” section, who frequently did outrageous stunts for clicks.

“I would walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard with like the craziest people, the weirdest drunks,” Milonakis said. “I would be drunk, like making out with chicks and like just doing stupid sh–.”

Several members of Milonakis’ crew found themselves in hot water. One was banned from Twitch after police were called on him without cause while he was on an airplane. Another was arrested live on stream in 2019.

“At the time, it seemed fine I guess, but looking back it sounds like hell,” Milonakis said. “And then once I wizened up, I was like, ‘Oh, man. Why do I just have to be here? I can be traveling.'”

In June of 2017, Milonakis met up with streamer EXBC in South Korea and fell in love with the idea of IRL streaming while traveling, which led him to Japan and Greece. Until the pandemic hit in 2020, Milonakis was traveling as much as he could, streaming to thousands in the process.

“I really do love the ability to be my own boss and fly all over the world and stream it live,” Milonakis said.

Milonakis says he regrets a lot

Milonakis has been making videos online for 20 years and regrets a large amount of time where he said he worked at “10% capacity,” he said.

“I don’t want to live my life where I just constantly am a workaholic and I don’t enjoy life, but I feel like I could’ve given it a lot more,” Milonakis said. “I’m not beating myself up over it, but it could have been pretty dope to work harder during those years.”

Milonakis has no plans of slowing down. His idol is Anthony Bourdain and hopes to one day create a show with his unique brand of humor, spitballing the idea of going to the best “sushi place in Japan and taking the food very seriously” but then dress up “as a ball of rice doing a rap video.”

“I think a lot of people write me off as that stupid, weird kid, which I am in a lot of ways, but I feel like I have more to offer,” Milonakis said. “I feel like when people kind of judge me and look at me in a weird way, I feel like I have my head on my shoulders and I feel like I’m very socially aware. I know how to talk to people and know how to treat people. And when I do really weird, crazy shit, I feel like people don’t expect that of me.”

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