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While Many Focus on the Problem of Disinformation, This Other Form of Information Poses Dangers to Users Online

Three teenage boys sitting on bedroom furniture discussing something.

While misinformation and disinformation on social media frequently capture news headlines, other forms of information can pose reputational risks to internet platforms and potential harm to consumers or others around them. LegitScript has encountered users and merchants on social media platforms posting various types of instructions that may be framed as being for informational use only but which can cause real harm. Below are some examples of the types of harmful misinformation and disinformation appearing online that continue to pose danger to internet users, particularly youth.

Instructions for Making Weapons

As 3D printers have become more ubiquitous, they have become increasingly popular in the creation of ghost guns. Design files and instructions for 3D-printed firearms can be found across social media platforms, often threaded with multiple posts or videos in a “how-to” type fashion. One of the first 3D-printed firearms, called the Liberator and designed in 2013, can be built using only a 3D printer and a nail. A concern for security officials is that guns manufactured with little or no metal components may be able to get past metal detectors.

Despite newly passed laws at the state level, the proliferation of both legal and illegal 80% lower receivers, continues to allow individuals to avoid background checks and registration. At the state level, New York, among other states, recently passed one of the most restrictive ghost gun laws in the US. Many of the newer state laws make it illegal to sell or transfer an unfinished receiver to anyone but a licensed gunsmith or dealer. Other states hoping to address the issue of 3D-printed firearms, such as Washington, have made it illegal to possess a firearm that is not detectable by a metal detector or magnetometer.

Major social media platforms are at risk of hosting videos and posts describing the perceived benefits of 3D-printed weapons, including tips and tricks for assembly and demonstrations of them firing. Even if platforms are diligent about removing files for 3D printed firearms, posts and videos often direct users to websites containing these files.

Instructions for Viewing Age-restricted Content

LegitScript has observed merchants using social media to market age-restricted content to minors. This content includes products such as vapes, cigarettes, alcohol, and may also include instructions on how to access such products by posing as an adult. In some instances, minors might also be instructed to meet with adult sellers in person to complete a transaction for an additional service fee, which may carry additional risk for the underaged individual.

This image depicts a laptop with a user profile on the screen from a social media platform.

A user on a major social media platform describes how and where to buy vape cartridges, cannabis, and other psychoactive products.

Instructions on Self Harm

In December 2021, the New York Times reported about various social media platforms hosting forums for groups of people contemplating suicide. The most problematic of these offer instructions on how to take one’s own life and include members who celebrate “brave” members in the group who have taken their own lives. According to the Times, the largest age demographic active in these groups is 15 to 24. Although many social media platforms have taken action against groups like these, some continue to sprout up on forums or as standalone websites. Some of these platforms also include links to  merchants marketing popular chemicals or drugs used for the purpose of suicide.

Want to learn about other potentially dangerous misinformation and disinformation online?

Download our new guide, Dangerous Trends on Social Media Platforms.


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