Facebook views tweens as ‘untapped’ wealth, documents say
Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal last published in his investigative series “Facebook files, Delving even deeper into the ubiquitous platform’s efforts to target and recruit young children.
Internal documents obtained by the Journal now reveal that Facebook has formed a special team to study children and think about ways to monetize them. One of these documents would refer to children aged 10 to 12 (“pre-teens”) as “valuable but untapped audience”. Another suggests “leveraging playdates” as a way to boost Facebook’s “growth”.
Another document cited by the newspaper, dated March 2021, notes that Facebook is grappling with “global teen penetration” and warns that “acquisition” of teenage users “appears to be slowing.” Internally, Facebook expects its teenage audience to fall an additional 45% by 2023, according to the Journal.
Facebook’s lucrative advertising business derives almost all of its profits from the ubiquitous tracking of its users; data that it in turn uses to create comprehensive behavior profiles used to “micro-target” ads and measure their effectiveness. While federal law prohibits the collection of data pertaining to children under 13, Facebook has spent years looking for a way to convince children to adopt its services as soon as they are old enough to be tracked.
Another Facebook document cited by the Journal indicates that children “go online from the age of six”. “Imagine a Facebook experience designed for young people,” he says.
This week, Facebook noted he was suspending his efforts to launch an “Instagram Kids” application. The announcement followed another report from the Journal indicating that Facebook was aware, through internal research, that Instagram has had negative impacts on the mental health of some teenage users. “We make body image problems worse for one in three teenage girls,” the research said, also noting that some teenage girls had traced their own suicidal ideation to their experiences on the platform. Facebook later claims this line of research was misleading, and the conclusion only applied to “Those teenage girls who told us they had body image issues said using Instagram made them feel worse – not one in three all teenage girls.
The report led Democratic lawmakers to call on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down the Instagram Kids project, saying they believed the app “poses a significant threat to the well-being of young people.”
Facebook has challenged the Journal’s characterization of its Instagram search, but has so far refused to make that research available for review – and has worked for frustrate independent research in the internal workings of its platforms, in general. Nick Clegg, Head of Corporate Policy, noted At a conference Monday, Facebook will release two internal slides summarizing its research “both to Congress and to the public in the coming days.”
Facebook documents calling children a “valuable” and “untapped” demographic contrary to its stated motives for rolling out a child-centric service: Facebook argued that children under 13 are likely to try to join Facebook and Instagram anyway by lying about their age. Creating an app specifically for kids would help protect them by separating them from adults online, the company says.
A Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Richard Blumenthal will convene a hearing Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET to address the findings of Facebook’s unshared internal research. Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of security, is expected to testify.
“This audience will examine the toxic effects of Facebook and Instagram on young people and others, and is one of many questions that will pose the tough questions about whether big tech companies knowingly harm people and cover up this knowledge, ”Blumenthal said.