Facebook are Fending Off Accusations of Psychological Ad Targeting

Facebook have had to develop a much harder stance against damning accusations of late, and lo and behold, here's another one to add to the list. The Australian, an imaginatively named Aussie broadsheet, has obtained internal company documents which they claim show Facebook's methods of hooking in teenage audiences. Allegedly, their doing it by exploiting negative emotions.

According to the paper, Facebook have been monitoring feelings of anxiety, fear of failure and other negative emotional states in users as young as 14. The suggestion appears to be that Facebook have been using this information to help advertisers figure out how to appeal to a younger audience. How exactly advertisers would use this kind of insight is a mystery, but the word 'exploitation' is hard to avoid.

Since the report came out, Facebook have actually confirmed that the report did indeed come from them. Initially they apologised and pledged to start an internal investigation, but since then they've changed their tune, alleging that The Australian was misrepresenting the information they'd received. According to Facebook, they were merely researching the way people deal with emotions on the platform, and doing it anonymously, with no plans to pass the information on to advertisers.

They went on to say that the only 'oversight' on their part was that this research coloured outside the lines to some extent. If that sounds vague, it's because they didn't really offer much more detail than that, just that they have an 'established process' for their research and in this case it wasn't followed.

This isn't the first time Facebook have analysed the emotional state of users. They got caught doing it back in 2014 and were forced to issue an apology, but clearly they still have a vested interest in carrying out this kind of unsettling data gathering. This document, if investigated further, could still be guilty of breaching Australian ad regulations, which could potentially land Facebook in court for the bazillionth time this year.

The sad truth is that Facebook are probably doing this kind of thing nearly all the time, this is just one of those rare instances where they've been careless enough to get caught. Mark Zuckerberg himself has expressed an interest in using the platform for psychological study, and their freedom of access to user data has always represented something of a grey area. And while they might not have had advertisers in mind here, reports have suggested that they've been looking to sell info about users' body image issues to them. Let's hope that never happens.

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