Commentary

Facebook Collected Data On Insecure Teens

Facebook collected data that would help advertisers reach teenagers who were feeling “worthless” or “insecure,” down to the age of 14, according to The Australian, which first reported the news.

The revelation has sparked a storm of criticism in Australia and elsewhere, as critics accuse the social network of seeking to profit from adolescent mental health issues – rather than helping combat them as promised.

Citing a leaked 23-page document prepared by two senior Facebook executives in Australia, the newspaper reports that the social network used algorithms to track emotions and moods in the target audience of 6.4 million young Australians and New Zealenders, with an eye to identifying “moments when young people need a confidence boost.”

The targeting criteria included emotional indicators suggesting that the teens were feeling emotionally vulnerable, including emotional states such as “stressed,” “defeated,” “overwhelmed,” and “useless.”

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According to a Facebook spokesperson quoted by Mashable, the execs prepared the document merely to “help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook,” and the social network “does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state.”

Nonetheless something seems fishy, as Facebook told the Australian: “We have opened an investigation to understand the process failure and improve our oversight. We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate.”

Indeed, critics argue that the system described by the report, based on real-time monitoring of teenagers’ moods and feelings, violates the Australian Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children, which requires parental consent for collection of personal information.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Facebook’s understanding of users’ emotions, which in the past has extended to outright manipulation.

In 2012 the social network conducted experiment that manipulated the content of news feeds for 689,903 users to see if it affected their emotional states (it did).

The latest study, titled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused entirely on the emotional content of news feeds to see if moods can spread through simple exposure, without direct communication (for example through text messages or email).

The researchers tried to determine “whether exposure to verbal affective expressions leads to similar verbal expressions, a form of emotional contagion” -- that is, whether seeing a friend’s mood via the news feed prompted the user to create posts with the same emotional tone.

To do this they conducted two separate experiments, one reducing the amount of positive emotional content in the users’ news feeds, the other reducing the amount of negative emotional content (emotional content was analyzed using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software).

The study covered a total of three million posts containing 122 million words.

The study uncovered definite evidence that emotional contagion occurs on Facebook via news feeds, as “people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive.

When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.”

2 comments about "Facebook Collected Data On Insecure Teens".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, May 4, 2017 at 11:19 a.m.


    Here come the wrongful death by suicide lawsuits.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, May 4, 2017 at 7:39 p.m.

    Out of your mouth, my the truth reign.

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