Nonprofits urge Facebook to release research targeting ‘insecure’ teens

Concerned that advertisers could take advantage of emotionally vulnerable teens, more than two dozen nonprofits urged Facebook Wednesday to publicly release the research the tech firm did on teens who feel “worthless” or “insecure.”

“We are concerned about how this information might be used by marketers and others to take advantage of young people, tapping into their emotions and unique developmental vulnerabilities for profit,” the May 10 letter stated. “There are also serious health and ethical implications of using such research findings to target youth.”

The letter, which was addressed to Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, asked the company to release an internal document that was leaked to The Australian.

The media outlet claimed this month that the research Facebook did on teenagers not only raises “profound ethical questions” but shows how the world’s largest social network is gathering data on the emotional state of teens to sell targeted ads.

Facebook in May released a statement calling the premise of the article “misleading,” noting that it doesn’t offer advertisers tools to target users based on their emotional state.

But nonprofits, including the Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America and other groups that advocate for privacy or consumer rights, say they want to know more.

The groups also asked the company to explain in more detail what the research was intended for, what happened and Facebook’s practices.

“For example, in what ways does Facebook use sentiment mining tools to gather and analyze communications by and among its adolescent and young adult users? In what ways does Facebook work with its advertiser clients to provide research data for marketing to youth? How do expressed moods correlate with responsiveness to advertising?,” the letter stated.

Facebook, which has 1.9 billion users worldwide, said it has already talked to several of the groups that sent the letter about their concerns.

“We take the concerns raised by these organizations seriously. Last week we reached out to several of these groups to discuss the research, and together agreed to set a meeting. We look forward to working with them,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2015. (LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)

 

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