Facebook denies allegations it let brands target teens based on psychological insights

Facebook has called the claims 'misleading'

Facebook has rebuffed claims it demonstrated the ability to serve targeted ads to young people based on vulnerable emotional states like stress, anxiety and failure.

The claims were first published earlier this week by daily broadsheet the Australian, which alleged an internal report compiled by a researchers for Facebook showed how the social behemoth "can exploit the moods and insecurities of teenagers using the platform for the potential benefit of advertisers."

Facebook confirmed that the research was shared with advertisers, but denied the specific nature of the claims, calling the article "misleading".

The Australian claimed the leaked document outlined how, by monitoring posts and engagement, Facebook could assess whether people as young as 14 felt "overwhelmed", "anxious", "a failure" and more.

In a statement, however, the platform said it didn't offer tools to target people based on their emotional state. "The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook," the company added.

"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."

The statement appeared to signal a U-turn from the Mark Zuckerberg-owned network, which in an original comment to the Australian on Sunday (30 April) had apologised, saying it had "opened an investigation to understand the process failure" adding: “We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate.”

Facebook has come under fire in the past for using sentiment analysis. In 2014 chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg apologised after the company was revealed to have conducted a week-long psychological experiment on some 700,000 users.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.