Facebook Exposes Minors to Harmful Ads
An investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation has found Facebook has marked minors as “interested in” alcohol and gambling, thereby exposing them to harmful ads.
Facebook’s advertising tools show some 940,000 minors under the age of 18 years are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages and 740,000 are flagged as interested in gambling.
These “interests” are automatically generated by Facebook, based on what it has learned about a user by monitoring their activity on the social network. Advertisers can then use them to specifically target messages to subgroups who have been flagged as interested in the topic. This means kids are being exposed to harmful ads without their control.
The existence of automated interests also means that alcohol and gambling advertisers who do try to avoid Facebook’s rules about advertising to children have an audience already selected for them by the social network.
Facebook relies primarily on automated review for flagging adverts that break its policies. But the automated review is not guaranteed to find breaches before the adverts start to run. That means children will be exposed to these ads for some time even if they may be taken down later.
Facebook’s desire to offer as much information as possible to advertisers for their targeting of Facebook users has repeatedly led to problems and criticism regarding advertisers’ ability to misuse that targeting data in ways that are often borderline, or outright illegal.
Previous research has found that being exposed to social media alcohol advertising can influence children to turn to alcohol.
It is imperative that Facebook strengthens their policies to safeguard children from harmful ads. A recent report by Cancer Research UK provides several reccomendations which can ensure kids do not get exposed to harmful ads online.