Facebook came under fire recently over a claim made by The Australian that the social media platform was targeting potentially vulnerable youths who require a confidence boost by promoting predatory advertising practices. The company has reportedly apologized for enabling advertisers to target emotionally vulnerable children and users as young as 14 years, according to a 23-page internal report obtained by The Australian.
Algorithms to track emotionally distressed users
The Australian released an internal report titled “Confidential: Internal Only” showing how the social networking site can exploit the moods of teenagers for the benefit of advertisers. The document prepared by two top Australian Facebook executives described using algorithms to gather data –through reactions, posts, and pictures — on the emotional state of 6.4 million “tertiary students,” “high schoolers,” and other “young New Zealanders and Australians” in the workforce.
The confidential document dated 2017 details how the social media giant could figure out when people as young as 14 years old feel nervous, anxious, stupid, useless, silly, overwhelmed, stressed, or a failure, just by controlling and monitoring their comments, reactions and posts on the platform. In other words, the data explains when young people feel these emotions and are well-positioned to receive a message from an advertiser.
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According to the report, the document said that Monday to Thursday is about building confidence, while the weekend is for broadcasting achievements. The information available to advertisers includes the location of a young person, their relationship status, their number of Facebook friends and the number of times they access the social media platform via PC or mobile. The social networking site is also able to collect information on how users are representing emotion and communicating visually, notes the news outlet.
Research was never used to target ads: Facebook
Google is still the largest internet company in the online advertising world, but the social media giant is the other major company that dominates the industry worth nearly $80 billion in 2016. As the tech giant rolls out ad products on a global and regional scale, it could be targeting young people all around the world with these methods.
A Facebook spokesperson told the news outlet over the weeked that they had opened an investigation to understand process failure and improve their oversight.
“We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate,” the spokesperson said.
A Facebook spokesperson also reportedly told Mashable that the insights of the document were never used to target ads. According to the spokesperson, the social media giant does not provide tools to target people based on their emotional state, and the analysis by the Australian researcher was intended to assist marketers in understanding how people express themselves on the social media platform. So this sort of proves that the company did have such research, but whether or not it used it is not known.
Nevertheless, the company could get in trouble, as it appears that its “Confidential: Internal Only” real-time monitoring of children’s emotions is in breach of the Australian Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children, notes Mashable.