Facebook exasperates brand safety fears as it's accused of turning a 'blind eye' to underage users

Ofcom estimates that 700,000 11-12 year-olds now have their own social media profile

Facebook is facing questions from advertisers around brand safety following reports that the company has been "turning a blind eye" to underage users signing up to use the platform.

According to Channel 4's Dispatches Facebook special, which is set to air later today (17 July, 10pm) moderators employed by a company subcontracted by Facebook will only take action where a child openly admits to being under the required age of 13 in their Facebook posts.

One moderator told Channel 4's undercover reporter that Facebook won't take action even if kids are visibly too young, making it easy for them to evade the lower age limit.

The reveal comes amid ongoing trepidation from advertisers around the age verification policies of social media and messaging platforms like Twitter and Snapchat.

Earlier this year, Diageo froze ad spend with Snapchat globally following a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which questioned the efficacy of the app's age gating process.

For alcohol and gambling brands especially, age-verification is becoming a significant brand safety concern.

Last month, Beam Suntory's global chief marketing officer, Rebecca Messina, told The Drum the company was "confident" in Facebook, but wouldn't work with Snap.

"If it can’t demonstrate that it can age-gate then we won’t work with it. I’d rather not advertise with it than risk there being a young audience. [Beam Suntory] wants 25 and over," she added.

Channel 4's investigation comes as brand marketers are already split over the effectiveness of Facebook's brand safety fixes following a year of headlines around extremism and other unsafe content on the platform.

During Dispatches, moderators said that even if content contains images of self harm they have to ignore any visual evidence (such as a profile picture) that it may have been posted by an underage user. Instead, they have treat them as they would an adult – sending advice about tackling self-harm rather than reporting their account.

The moderator told Channel 4: “We have to have an admission that the person is underage. If not, we just pretend that we are blind and we don’t know what underage looks like.

“If this person was a kid, like a 10-year-old we don’t care, we still action the ticket as if it were an adult.”

Facebook does have a Messenger Kids application, which allows children under 13 to chat with parents’ approval, but Ofcom estimates that 700,000 11-12 year-olds now have their own social media profile.

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