TTP Investigation: Facebook Allows Harmful Ads to Target Teens
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 4, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report showing that Facebook allows ads for alcoholic drinks, pharmaceuticals, extreme weight loss, and other potentially harmful content to be targeted at children as young as 13 in the United States. TTP created a series of age-inappropriate test ads aimed at kids 13 to 17-years-old and found that Facebook approved them in a matter of hours. The ads were never shown to children, but the fact that they so easily passed through Facebook’s ad review process raises questions about Facebook’s data collection and ad targeting practices around teenagers.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Facebook claims its ads go through significant human and automated review, but it’s hard to understand how any content moderator with a genuine understanding of Facebook’s own policies on what’s appropriate for teens could have approved these ads. Whether it’s due to a lack of employee training, an over-reliance on AI, or a genuine lack of caring ingrained within Facebook’s policies, this is just the latest piece of evidence showing that Facebook’s content moderation system needs a serious overhaul.”
TTP’s research builds upon an April 26 report released by the watchdog group Reset Australia, which described how it got approval for Facebook ads related to alcohol, gambling, and other harmful and risky behaviors targeted at thousands of Australian children between the ages of 13 and 17. Like TTP’s experiment, the ads set up by Reset Australia never ran but made it through Facebook’s approval process and were scheduled for publication.
In both studies, the potential reach of the test ads aimed at teens was at times mind-boggling. For example, TTP obtained approval for an ad with the interest category of “alcoholic beverages,” which yielded a potential audience of more than 900,000 American teens. It’s important to note that Facebook users do not self-select these interest categories. Rather, Facebook gleans this information by monitoring user behavior. TTP’s report also found high numbers of youth tagged with interests including smoking, gambling, pharmaceuticals, online dating services, and more.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “If Facebook has any actual interest in protecting teens from dangerous online content, it must immediately make changes to its advertiser targeting options to stop predatory companies intent on placing these ads in teens’ News Feeds.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.