Facebook denies exploiting unhappy teens
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.