A joint investigation of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian has found that hundreds of thousands of underage individuals have been able to see adverts about gambling and alcohol on Facebook.
According to the investigation’s results, the advertising tools of the social network mark 740,000 children under the age of 18 as being interested in gambling. About 130,000 of these underage individuals have been British. In addition, approximately 940,000 minors, 150,000 of whom originate from the UK, are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages.
As learned from the investigation, Facebook generates these interests automatically, based on the information it has gotten by monitoring users’ social network activity. Advertisers, on the other hand, can use these interests to make their campaigns target certain sub-groups who have been marked as interested in a certain topic.
After the results of the investigation have been announced, Facebook released a statement, saying that the social network allowed adverts promoting neither gambling nor the sale of alcohol to underage individuals and if found, such activity is facing strict enforcement actions. Facebook officials also said the social network worked in collaboration with regulators in order to provide guidance for marketers and held them reach their desired audiences responsibly and effectively.
Internet, Emerging Technologies and Social Networks Make It Easier to Access Gambling and Gambling Advertising
The revelations have been made at a time when the Government of the UK, local regulators and charity organisations have been worried about the increase registered in the children’s gambling participation rates, as the number of children who gamble and who get affected by gambling in a certain way or become addicted to gambling has been rising in the last few years.
The thing is that the Internet, emerging technologies and social networks have made it easier for people of all ages to access gambling, but children are among the most vulnerable society members and could easily be tempted to start gambling and become addicted to the activity.
Advertisers can target the interests of their audiences for other purposes, too. Children could be targeted by video game developers that offer controversial “loot boxes” even without these companies violating any of Facebook’s regulations. Things get even more complex due to the so-called “automated interests”, which are used by gambling and alcohol advertisers to avoid the social network’s rules regarding advertising to children. This is one of the main reasons why the automatic categorisation of Facebook’s users has previously faced a lot of criticism.
The revelations made by the joint investigation of The Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation have been made only a few days after the National Health Service (NHS) of the UK has revealed that it is opening the first specialist clinic aimed at treating children and young adults who are addicted to computer games.