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Facebook denies targeting “insecure” Aussie and Kiwi kids

Facebook has officially denied claims made by The Australian that it targets young people based on their emotional states.

In a press release, Facebook said that the article’s premise was “misleading” and that “the analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook.”

But the social media giant noted that the research did not “follow the process” typically used to review its research and that it was going to “correct the oversight”.

According to The Australian, Facebook is using sophisticated algorithms to identify and exploit Australians as young as 14, by allowing advertisers to target them when they feel most vulnerable.

The Australian claims to have seen a 23-page Facebook document marked ‘Confidential: Internal Only (2017)’ which outlines how the social media giant can target “moments when young people need a confidence boost” in precise detail.

Facebook allegedly monitors the posts, interactions and internet activity of young people to discern when they are feeling “stressed”, “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless” and “a failure” the document states.

“Anticipatory emotions are more likely to be expressed early in the week, while reflective emotions increase on the weekend,” the leaked document said. “Monday-Thursday is about building confidence; the weekend is for broadcasting achievements.”

The document also describes how Facebook is gathering psychological insights on 6.4 million “high schoolers”, “tertiary students” and “young Australians and New Zealanders…in the workforce” to sell targeted advertising.

When The Australian reached out to for a comment, it said that Facebook Australia issued a formal apology and that would “undertake disciplinary processes as appropriate”. Although Aussie news outlet did not provide screenshots of the leaked document, it did name two top Facebook executives, Andy Sinn and David Fernandez, as the document’s authors.

The tactics outlined in the document appear to breach the Australian Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children guidelines.

The code, adopted by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), defines a child as a person who is 14 or younger, and states a “child must obtain a parent of guardian’s express consent prior to engaging in any activity that will result in the collection or disclosure of such personal information”.

If the leaked document is real, it joins a long line of creepy stuff Facebook has done.

In 2011, Facebook rolled out an “instant personalisation” feature that provides certain websites with your Facebook data so that they can “personalise” their sites based on your information. It was criticised for being “opt out” rather than “opt in”. (I just checked and mine is enabled, as is yours probably. But by turning it off, you will lose that handy feature of being able to sign in to websites using Facebook – so make your choice: privacy or convenience).

In 2014, Facebook courted controversy when it was revealed that the social network was manipulating the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users without their consent. One of the aims of that study was to find out if “exposure to emotions led people to change their posting behaviours”.

Last year, it was discovered that Facebook’s ad platform was guessing users’ ethnicity based on behaviour and also excluding people from housing ads based on their race.

The scary thing is we never seem to know the full extent of Facebook’s snooping until after the fact. It makes you wonder: if a real person treated you like this, would you still be friends?

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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