Drug dealers are turning to Facebook and other popular social media sites to peddle steroids, raising more questions about whether the companies are properly policing their platforms.

Those substances, which are illegal without a prescription, are being aggressively sold or marketed through posts and videos on sites including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, according to new research by Internet safety nonprofit Digital Citizens Alliance and cyberintelligence firm GiPEC. During the first half of the year, the researchers say they found more than 100 examples of such pages or posts.

Even as recently as this week, more than a dozen Facebook pages, YouTube videos and an Instagram account were selling or promoting prescription steroid and appearance enhancing drugs were still live on the platforms. After a Washington Post inquiry, the social media companies removed the pages and posts violating their terms of service, which prohibit illegal drug sales.

The posts turn devices into drug dealers, said Tom Galvin, Digital Citizens Alliance executive director. "Parents should know that," he said. Their kids are "gaining access to this online on sites that are mainstream."

The sale of these types of drugs is just the latest example of harmful and illicit content proliferating on social networks, turning the platforms into potentially dangerous places for users. Disinformation, hate speech and illegal sales continue to plague the sites, despite efforts to better moderate content both with thousands of humans and improved algorithms.

Facebook said it removes content that violates its policies as it finds them. "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," said Facebook spokeswoman Crystal Davis.

YouTube said it removed 90,000 videos for violating its "harmful or dangerous policy" in the second quarter of 2019, and the company works closely with experts including emergency room doctors and pediatricians to develop its policies. "We've been investing in the policies, resources and products needed to live up to our responsibility and protect the YouTube community from harmful content," YouTube spokesman Farshad Shadloo said.

Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough pointed to the company's existing policies, which state Twitter can't be used for "any unlawful purpose or in furtherance of illegal activities."

Steroids have previously surfaced as a social media problem. Digital Citizens Alliance first researched the issue in 2013, finding that the steroids were being sold on YouTube. Immediately following the report, it appeared the company cracked down.

YouTube said it's taken a number of steps to reduce the spread of "borderline content and videos" on its site in recent years.

The researchers, including Eric Feinberg, the chief executive of New York-based GiPEC, decided to revisit the topic after noticing last year that steroids continued to be sold on the platforms. "They continue to turn a blind eye," he said.

Pages, groups and videos pushing steroids could be found through searching for keywords like Human Growth Hormone or Humatrope. Once users land on one of those pages, dealers push using the drugs and may include a way to contact them, like an email address or WhatsApp number.

In some cases, the content surfaced to researchers as "Suggested Pages" or "Recommended Videos" they might like due to their searches. While YouTube has recently launched features attempting to reduce illicit content, it only works on English-speaking videos. The researchers found suggested steroid videos alongside videos in foreign languages like Arabic, according to screenshots reviewed by The Post.

The proliferation of steroids on social media platforms comes at a time when Americans more generally are using them to improve their appearance as well as athletic performance. DCA polled 2,417 Americans about steroid use this summer. About 10% of people said they had taken the drugs. More than half reported they had taken the drugs to improve their physical appearance, as compared to 35% who said they took the drugs to improve athletic performance.

"It seems like a cruel irony that the same platforms that are fueling a desire to look like celebrities in the social media age are also the platforms that people turn to reshape their body to look like celebrities," Galvin said.

Advocates against steroid abuse are calling on the tech companies to do more to stamp out the sales on their platforms.

Donald Hooton Sr., the executive chairman of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, fights steroid abuse in memory of his son. The new research illustrates just how much the issue of steroid abuse has evolved, he said. His son, a successful high school student athlete whose death was linked to steroid abuse more than fifteen years ago, found his dealer while working out at the local YMCA.

Hooton Sr. said he was concerned that parents don't realize such sales could now be happening on their children's devices, and called on the tech giants to do more.

"There is no doubt in my mind that they've got the capability, engineering skills and the wherewithal to get this crap stopped, to prevent this from going on on their platform," he added.

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