Twitter users under the age of 18 who follow popular sports accounts are being "bombarded" with gambling ads, according to an investigation by the Times.
Promotions and special offers for several major betting firms, including Paddy Power and BetFair, are regularly appearing in the feeds of children and directing them to the companies' websites on via the social network according to the research.
A BetFair spokesman told the Times: “Betfair has strict age-verification procedures which prevent anyone under the age of 18 from opening an account.”
Betting sites are indeed age-gated and as such don't allow anyone under the age of 18 to sign up, however the National Problem Gambling Clinic has noted that regular exposure to this type of media can "normalise" gambling behaviour. Studies also indicate that youths being served these ads are more likely to try to enter bookmakers or gamble when they hit 18.
The Times investigation referenced accounts such as @Football_Tweet, which with 300,000 followers appears to post gambling ads among its regular content, before deleting them a few hours later. A review of the channel's followers suggested there are a significant amount of young people in the mix, while the deletion of ads means that anyone browsing the timeline with the intent to follow would be unaware of the number of ads its pushing out.
Twitter doesn't ask users to enter their date of birth when they sign up, although it does age screen followers who wish to follow alcohol or betting brands - but there's no real verification process to check these details.
Twitter said in a statement: “Our advertising policies clearly state that advertisers may not use Twitter to target their adverts at minors."
The Advertising Standards Authority has said it will look into the matter further to "establish whether any action is needed."