Facebook Accused Of Feeding ‘Insecure’ Teen Users To Advertising Sharks

It is often said in regards to free online services such as Facebook that if you are not paying for a product, then you are the product. Fair enough, but that does not mean there are no lines that can be crossed. Facebook seems to have stepped over one with a sophisticated algorithm that lets advertisers target teenagers during vulnerable states, such as when they are feeling "insecure" or "worthless."

This came to light when The Australian got its hands on a confidential 23-page Facebook document outlining how the world's largest social playground is able to identify "moments when young people need a confidence boost." Like every other creepy thing that happens when a company has widespread access to people's personal lives, Facebook monitors posts, pictures, and various social media activity in real-time.


Through its algorithm, Facebook knows when a teenager is feeling "stressed" or "defeated," to name just two of may adjectives it's able to discern. A sampling of others include "anxious," "stupid," "useless," and "silly," all of which are mentioned in the document.

Now that this is out in the public, Facebook is having a hard time spinning things. In one breath it's offering an apology to the media outlet that blew the whistle on all of this, adding that it is investigating the matter to understand where it failed and "will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate." And in another breath, Facebook says the information that is out there is "misleading."

"On May 1, 20217, The Australian posted a story regarding research done by Facebook and subsequently shared with an advertiser. The premise of the article is misleading. Facebook does 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 and aggregated. 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," Facebook says.

Either way, this latest discover underscores how Facebook is able to extract way more information than perhaps most people realize. The document explains how the social site is able to gain psychological insights on 6.4 million high school teens, tertiary students, and other young adults. While you may think you're simply posting a photo of your dinner or engaging in a debate with a friend or family member, you're also providing Facebook with valuable information about you as a person and your current state of mind.