The Truth Behind Those Viral Sex Trafficking Warning Tweets You Keep Seeing

Photographed by Lauren Maccabbee.
The summer of scams is apparently not over. The latest, however, is more of an un-scam, or something people have been led to believe is a scam, but isn't.
Recently, a message has made its way around the internet warning users to look out for texts that say things like, "Someone complimented you! See more:" and then give you a link to click on.
Several Twitter users have linked these messages to sex trafficking despite no credible evidence. "Ladies be aware. This shit is getting out of control. Do NOT click on those links!!" wrote one Twitter user. There was another, more popular, tweet, which got more than 100,000 RTs and likes, and has since been deleted.
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It read: "LADIES, if you have received a text recently saying ‘a friend has complimented you in IRL’ With a link attached below it, DO NOT open the link! It is linked to sex trafficking. All your information, (including location) can be taken simply by clicking on the link. SO DON’T DO IT!"
But according to Snopes — the urban-legend debunking site — the claim is "completely unsubstantiated." Those texts link to a new social app called IRL, and while the unsolicited messages may be annoying, there's no proof that they're in any way connected to a sex trafficking ring.
IRL, which stands for "In Real Life," "aims to solve technology addiction by bringing people together in real life," according to its mission statement. An IRL user can send an invite to a non-user through text. So, if you received one of these messages, it's likely that one of your friends has added you on the app.
An IRL spokesperson told Gizmodo that the tweets are "incredibly false rumours and nowhere near accurate." In a July thread on Reddit, Abraham Shafi, one of the cofounders and CEO of IRL, explained the company's privacy policy:
"We do not spam or harvest your contacts. There are only two types of messages that we send. (1) A message with the name of the person that has sent you an invite to hang out (via text message if you don’t already have the app, or a notification within the app if you’ve already downloaded IRL). (2) A message is sent when you’ve received an anonymous compliment, where you can request to reveal the name of nominator in the app (via text message if you don’t already have the app, or a notification within the app if you’ve already downloaded IRL). If users don’t want our texts anymore, they can respond 'no' or 'stop' and we will never send another text message."
It's smart to be wary of texts from unknown numbers, and not to click on weird links that people send you. But it's also smart to verify every rumour before spreading false information. That said, sex traffickers have been known to recruit online, especially through direct messages on Instagram, Mary David, the communications director for Journey Out, an anti-sex trafficking organisation in L.A., tells Refinery29. "Instagram is an incredibly common sex trafficking recruiting tool, targeted toward teens and college students," she says. "They're being DM'ed, and sometimes it will be in the comments."
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