Face­book de­nies ex­ploit­ing un­happy teens

Web User - - Need To Know -

What hap­pened?

Face­book has re­futed claims that it helps ad­ver­tis­ers tar­get young users who may be feel­ing “over­whelmed and anx­ious”. An in­ter­nal Face­book re­search pa­per, seen by The Aus­tralian news­pa­per, al­legedly de­tails how the com­pany can mon­i­tor the ac­tiv­ity of users as young as 14 years old to work out when they are feel­ing “use­less”, “ner­vous”, “de­feated”, “stressed”, “over­whelmed”, “silly”, “anx­ious”, and “stupid”. It also said Face­book can tell when teenagers are happy or ex­cited.

A Face­book spokesper­son called the ac­cu­sa­tions “mis­lead­ing”, telling Web User’s sis­ter site IT Pro: “We do not of­fer tools to tar­get peo­ple based on their emo­tional state. 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.”

The tech­nol­ogy used by Face­book to gather this data, known as ‘sen­ti­ment anal­y­sis’, is com­mon through­out the ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing in­dus­tries. It’s of­ten used by com­pa­nies to de­ter­mine how cer­tain de­mo­graph­ics feel about a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct, brand or event, us­ing so­cial-me­dia tools such as trend­ing top­ics and hash­tags.

In a sep­a­rate state­ment, Face­book told The Aus­tralian that “Face­book has an es­tab­lished process to re­view the re­search we per­form. This re­search did not fol­low that process, and we are re­view­ing the de­tails to cor­rect the over­sight,” the com­pany added.

How will it af­fect you?

It’s a hor­ri­fy­ing thought that ad­ver­tis­ers are ex­ploit­ing teenagers’ neg­a­tive emo­tions to push prod­ucts at them. It’s al­ready a con­cern for par­ents that their chil­dren ‘over share’ on Face­book, let alone that the con­tent and com­ments they post may be used for fi­nan­cial gain. Although Face­book says such data is col­lected anony­mously, this rev­e­la­tion still serves as a re­minder that the site is a mon­e­tised pub­lic arena, not a pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool.

What do we think?

It’s no se­cret that Face­book shares its users’ data with ad­ver­tis­ers, but the shock of this par­tic­u­lar story – at least as ini­tially re­ported – was that vul­ner­a­ble teenagers were be­ing tar­geted as well as over-shar­ing adults. We’re not to­tally con­vinced by Face­book’s de­nial – af­ter all, per­son­alised ad­ver­tis­ing is how the so­cial net­work makes its bil­lions – but at least in this in­stance it ap­pears to ad­mit that ex­ploit­ing un­happy young users is in­ap­pro­pri­ate, or an “over­sight” to use the com­pany’s own term.

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