Facebook Is Allegedly Letting Marketers Target Teens When They’re At Their Lowest


Advertising isn’t mind control, but it’s no secret that we’re most easy to manipulate at our most extreme emotional states, and a leaked research paper appears to reveal that ad buyers on Facebook may have been offered the opportunity to manipulate teens when they were feeling their worst.

A document from Facebook, leaked by The Australian, shows that at the very least, Facebook discussed giving marketers data on the emotional states of buyers. The document is alleged to feature executives offering that information to marketing campaigns, providing data across all emotional states and across the life-span.

From Consumerist:

The document apparently outlines an array of teenagers’ emotional states that the company claims it can target based on how kids are using the service, including, “anxious,” “defeated,” “insecure,” overwhelmed,” “stressed,” and “worthless,” among other negative emotions.

The document reportedly also helps advertisers particularly target users at moments when they are interested in “looking good” or “losing weight,” and goes into detail abut its ability to capture and predict the emotional states of 6.4 million high schoolers, students, and young adults in Australia and New Zealand using its data mining and algorithms.

The company released a statement referring to the leaked document as an “oversight” and admitting that “internal review guidelines” had not been followed, although they stressed that the data — collected anonymously — had never been used to target ads. Still, Facebook has been accused of being willfully tone-deaf when it comes to poorly considered options in the past, so this would be an excellent time for the company to tread more carefully when it comes to the sharing of data.

The risk is a bit more than just teenagers feeling pressured into buying something when they’re down. Teenagers are more likely to go for ‘extreme’ diets, for example, compared to adults. The chances of unethical marketing paired with potentially poor decision-making are bad enough as it is and even the threat of potentially enabling this type of behavior is likely to end very, very badly.

Any discussion of what Facebook knows about us needs to be tempered by remembering Facebook only knows what we tell it, regardless of our age, and that Facebook’s vaunted algorithms have not held up to real-world stress tests. Still, the door to a dangerous problem appears to be open, and should be quickly shut if so.

(Via The Consumerist)