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Facebook Under Fire For Documents That Allegedly Show Ad Targeting Of At Risk Youth

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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Facebook is allegedly targeting emotionally vulnerable youths in order to tailor advertisements on the platform and make more money, according to leaked documents obtained by The Australian.

The confidential files, which reportedly came from Facebook’s office in Australia, show that Facebook tries to pinpoint potentially troubled people as young as fourteen, according to News.com.au. Some of the particular emotions Facebook deciphers include “overwhelmed,” “stressed,” “defeated,” “useless,” “anxious,” “stupid,” and feeling like a “failure.”

Other apparent insights the company allegedly seeks are if a teenager is showing interest in “looking good,” “working out and losing weight,” as well as gaining “body confidence,” reports Ars Technica. The collected data appears to have only included users from Australia and New Zealand.

“We have opened an investigation to understand the process failure and improve our oversight. We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate,” a Facebook Australia spokesperson said, according to Ars Technica, adding that such research does not follow typical protocol.

Facebook, though, refutes that it has done anything wrong so far and says The Australian article is misleading.

“The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated,” the company wrote on an official blog post.

Such information is gathered through an algorithm, or a complex system analyzing people’s sentiments. Marketers value such data — especially from the younger generation, which are not only consumers, but highly engaged social media users — because it allows ads to reach the right people thereby making the process more cost-efficient.

And Facebook is capitalizing on such consumer knowledge. The social media company turned tech conglomerate likely made $8 billion from digital advertising revenue in 2015, analyst Brian Wieser estimated in April of 2016. Facebook is set to make $33.76 billion from ad revenues, according to a forecast from eMarketer, a market research company.

Google and Facebook combined account for 90 percent of the growth new ad revenue, essentially rendering it a duopoly, reports Jason Kint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, an advertising trade group. (RELATED: Facebook Continues Quest For World Dominance, Starts Hiring In Africa)

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