Facebook has been accused of targeting vulnerable teenagers as young as 14 years who “need a confidence boost” through rapacious advertising methods.
— Masergy (@MASERGY) May 1, 2017
These allegations were first exposed on Monday by The Australian which gathered internal documents from the social media agency. The documents which were dated this year explained how the company monitored posts, comments and interactions on their site. With this analysis their algorithms were able to figure out which users felt “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “stressed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless”, and a “failure”.
The secret document was constructed by two Australian Facebook executives and provides information determining how young people will feel throughout the week.
“Monday-Thursday is about building confidence; the weekend is for broadcasting achievements,” the document said, according to the report.
Advertisers have the ability to target young defenseless teenagers through a system called sentiment analysis. Google and Facebook have been the leading giants in the advertising world which was valued at about $80 billion last year.
— Jason Kint (@jason_kint) December 30, 2016
However, this has not been the first time that the social media company has tried to exploit it's users. Back in 2012, Facebook conducted an experiment by modifying the algorithms to choose which statuses appeared on the news feed of roughly 700,000 random users based off the post's emotional content. With posts either being negative or positive, Facebook wanted to see if they could make a group of users sad by displaying more negative posts in their feed. The social media giants proved they could and the experiment lasted for one week.
— Neal Schaffer (@NealSchaffer) May 1, 2017
The results were published into a scientific journal but Facebook faced backlash and criticism from concerned users due to the commercial benefit through social engineering.
According to the Facebook Data Use Policy the company "may use the information we receive about you … for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” This includes every detailed information about you including your relationship status, location, age, etc.
Although Facebook did not release any private information to the public after the study, there is a possibility that the company did infringe on Australian guidelines for advertising and marketing towards children.
The company declined to comment back to news.com.au on the issue, but were swift to send an apology. Facebook told The Australian that they would conduct an investigation, acknowledging that it was unsuitable to target the young audience with their methods.
Eventually, Facebook did issue the following statement on their newsroom website:
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