Facebook has denied claims that it has been targeting potentially vulnerable youths who “need a confidence boost” to boost ad clicks from brand advertising on the social network.
A research paper, reported on but not published by The Australian newspaper, was said to go into detail about how teenage users post about self-image, weight loss and other issues.
The documents reportedly show how Facebook can exploit the moods and insecurities of teenagers using the platform for the potential benefit of advertisers.
The confidential document dated this year detailed how by monitoring posts, comments and interactions on the site, Facebook can figure out when people as young as 14 feel “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “stressed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless”, and a “failure”.
Such information gathered through a system dubbed sentiment analysis could be used by advertisers to target young Facebook users when they are potentially more vulnerable. The research only covered Facebook users in Australia and New Zealand.
The Australian newspaper reports that the secret document was put together by two Australian Facebook execs. It reportedly includes information about when young people are likely to feel excited, reflective, as well as other emotions related to overcoming fears.
“Monday-Thursday is about building confidence; the weekend is for broadcasting achievements,” the document said, according to the report.
Facebook confirmed the research was shared with advertisers, but said the article was “misleading”.
“Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state,” the network said in a statement. “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 has faced criticism in the past over manipulating users’ feeds for the purpose of research.
In 2014 it was discovered the firm was intentionally showing 700,000 users certain types of content and seeing if their emotions could be manipulated.