The last thing I expected to find on Instagram was someone telling me not to look at their Story if I didn't want to masturbate. But that comment, which I can only assume was intended reverse psychology, wasn't just directed at me. It was left on a post from Sky Sports and, thanks to the thousands of likes garnered by the comment, it was the first thing the account's 2.7 million followers would see when they looked at the comments on that picture. There are similar comments all over Instagram, particularly on high-profile pages with millions of followers. And they have one thing in common: They're spam profiles with pictures and videos of naked and half-naked women, which were created to get you to look at their accounts and then have you sign up for shady pornographic sites.
Based on dozens of Instagram pages we reviewed, including those from ESPN, House of Highlights, LeBron James, Travis Scott, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and The Fat Jewish, these types of comments are becoming commonplace. Most of the accounts posting them have similar usernames, usually a name followed by a number (e.g. "cherylmason0" or "delpha_dibbert5"), signaling a coordinated effort by a bot farm. While the most common comment seems to be "We gonna ignore the fact that I've GOT A HUGE BOOTY," there are many variations of this type of spam, such as:
"DON'T LOOK at my STORY, if you don't want to M A S T U R B A T E !"
"Ok but I KNOW none of y'all can name a female badder than me"
"hey lonely man, what do you do in the bathroom besides taking a shower? answer honestly!"
"I Swear to G O D . if I top comment I will be N A K E D in front of the camera"
"We must Ignore this fact that I have a H U G E B O O T Y"
"I DARE YOU TO CALL ME A 'THOT'"
"Bet y'all will addicted after seeing my story"
"Are we really going to ignore the fact that I have big TITS"
More often than not, these comments will rack up thousands of likes, sending them to the top of the comments section. Once you click on their profile, there are usually a handful of pictures of women in lingerie or bikinis, if they're clothed at all. Meanwhile, the accounts' description will say something like, "prepare yourself to watch my masturbation videos and watch out not to get hooked after seeing it," followed by a "Click here" that points you to a shortened Linktree URL. If you click one of these links, you're taken to a bunch of dubious sites like "Finder," "Fuckbuddy," "Livecam Masturbie" and "MyCuteGirlfriends," some of which eventually ask you to enter personal information and sign up for an account.
Some of these Instagram pages will go as far as to post Stories to make people think they're from a real human, but like their comments, they're usually riddled with typos and look as if they were made with Microsoft Paint. "Did you think I'm an bot account?" read one Story. "1 luckiest follower will date with me tomorrow, all day you can do anything to me." We found the different pages had anywhere from zero followers to somewhere in the hundreds.
"These damn bots are getting out of hand @Instagram. Do something about it Zucks."
These bots are now so prevalent in the comments of popular Instagram pages that regular users are mocking the trend. Every now and then, you'll see a comment from someone who's clearly not a bot saying, "are we gonna ignore the fact that I have a BIG HEART" or "Are we gonna ignore the fact that I have NO TITS and FLAT ASS?" Others go straight to the point and say, "All the comments so far is just about girls betting nobody has bigger tits then them" or "These damn bots are getting out of hand @Instagram. Do something about it Zucks."
Someone even created an Instagram account called "Bot Police," which focuses on calling out and reporting these spam comments. BotPolice has 92,000 followers so far and, in its profile description, the motto reads "'IvE GOt A hUgE bOoTy' - yeah we don't care. #NoBotsBy2020."
Similar (and equally not-safe-for-work) bot accounts will try to lure people in by claiming they can make them "Insta famous." They post Stories advertising the sale of 1,000 followers for $5, 2,000 for $9.50 and 3,000 for $14. "Selling post likes DM me for personalized deals," one account said. "All prices are in USD and I only accept PayPal or Cash app. DM me for inquiries or questions."
But the problem for Instagram doesn't stop here: There are also scam accounts leaving comments offering people the sale of verification badges, which are typically limited to brands, news outlets, celebrities and social media influencers. Like the other spam accounts, these scammers tend to prey on the Instagram pages with thousands or even millions of followers. Their comments are straightforward: "DM to purchase Instagram verification, 100% legit and 100% success rate with proof. Limited amount!"
The most concerning thing about these accounts trying to sell that blue checkmark is that, based on the profiles we've found, they have a verification badge themselves. One account we interacted with, which has since been taken down, had a verified profile and more than 20,000 followers. An Instagram spokesperson told Engadget that this was the result of an authentic verified account having been hacked, and that it has been returned to its rightful owner.
In a direct message on Instagram, the person running the profile at the time said they would charge me $150 to get me verified on the app. He then proceeded to send me a number of screenshots of other Instagram users thanking him for getting them verified, which he claimed as proof of his success rate.
"My friend, I will use my Instagram panel to submit your verification request, they [Instagram] take it a lot more serious because I'm already a verified member, and it always works," he said. "I've gotten multiple accounts verified and people pay left and right, that's why a lot of people getting verified now. Instagram is looking to take over that's why it's easy to get verified now but once they [dominate] social media it'll probably get harder or impossible [unless] you pay thousands of dollars."
When I asked him to explain the Instagram "panel" he referenced, because it sounded like a scam, he did not respond. His profile, however, contained a link to a dubious website called "IG Verification," which offered basic information on the services he offered.
Of course, Instagram does not sell its verification services, and anyone can apply for it directly from its app. It's unclear how many people are actually falling for these scams. But, with Instagram having 1 billion monthly users, this is a serious issue for the company -- especially when you can't go through a few high-trafficked pages without running into one of these comments.
Users trying to start trends on Instagram comments is nothing new -- like when people were asking for RIP messages on their pictures to make others think they were dead -- but what's happening with these NSFW bots and scammers isn't just a prank. It's a deliberate attempt to deceive Instagram users.
"Nobody likes receiving spammy follows, likes and comments," an Instagram spokesperson told Engadget. "It's really important to us that the interactions people have on Instagram are genuine, and we're working hard to keep the community free from spammy behavior." In November of 2018, Instagram said it was working to reduce dubious behavior on the app, including the removal of inauthentic likes, follows and comments. "We've built machine learning tools to help identify accounts that use these services and remove the inauthentic activity," Instagram said in a blog post at the time.