TTP Investigation: Facebook’s Continued Failure on Harmful Teen Ads Contradicts Senate Testimony
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 1, 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 continues to allow ads promoting alcohol, drugs, gambling, and extreme weight loss to teens as young as 13, despite testimony by Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety, claiming the opposite. Today’s report mirrors a May TTP investigation about a set of six test ads submitted to Facebook for approval, promoting pill abuse, alcoholic drinks, anorexia, smoking, dating services, and gambling. Both in the initial test, and in this month’s repeat, all ads were approved quickly—some of them in less than an hour.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “The results of our investigation directly contradict Davis’ sworn Senate testimony that this type of content is not allowed. If Facebook and Instagram refuse to invest in the resources necessary to establish an ad approval process actually capable of enforcing their policies, then all nature of age-inappropriate content will continue to get through.”
In her Senate testimony, Davis said to Sen. Mike Lee: “There are categories of ads that we don’t allow for young people … tobacco, alcohol, weight loss products.” All three categories Davis named represent ads that TTP had no problem obtaining approval for when submitted just weeks ago.
This investigation follows recently implemented Facebook changes removing the option for advertisers to target teens based on their perceived interest in topics like “alcoholic beverages,” “pharmaceutical industry,” and “extreme weight loss.” But Facebook continues to allow advertisers to target teens broadly as a group, meaning TTP’s latest round of test ads had the potential to reach millions of young people across the U.S.
It is also notable that, while advertisers can no longer successfully submit an ad that targets teens based on interest categories, they can still see the number of teen users Facebook has tagged with that interest category. So, while an advertiser can no longer specifically target teens interested in “alcoholic beverages,” they can still see that over 29,000 teens in the United States remain tagged as interested in that category. Facebook’s blog post made clear that these targeting options will become accessible to advertisers when users turn 18. That means Facebook may still be tracking teens’ movements online and their interest in harmful topics like drugs, alcohol, and extreme weight loss.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “If Facebook truly cares about what its underage users are exposed to on the platform, it cannot continue to rely on artificial intelligence to make the determinations of what content is and isn’t safe for children to see. Until the company makes robust investments in the number of human moderators it has tasked with reviewing its ads, these problems will persist.”
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.