The truth about Facebook targeting young people, and how to keep them safe.

A 23-page report seen by The Australian allegedly shows Facebook uses algorithms to collect data on the emotional state of young people, in order to allow advertisers to target them at their most vulnerable.

The publication said that by monitoring people’s activity, Facebook can determine when young people feel “stressed”, “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, “useless” and more. The network can then, allegedly, identify “moments when young people need a confidence boost”.

According to The Australian, “the document lays out how the world’s biggest social network is gathering psychological insights on 6.4 million ‘high schoolers’, ‘tertiary students’, and ‘young Australians and New Zealanders … in the workforce’ to sell targeted advertising”.

A Facebook spokesperson told Mamamia, however, that the research has been misrepresented, and “was never used to target ads”.

Image via iStock.

"Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state," the spokesperson said.

Likewise, leading cyber safety expert Susan McLean says Facebook does a great deal of research "to work out how people are expressing their emotions online". Organisations like Facebook are interested in how their audience is feeling, and whether they're able to express those feelings within the parameters of their platform.

McLean doesn't believe Facebook were using that research to target young people with advertising.

While we can't be sure if Facebook has used its data in the way The Australian claims, most of us are aware that the social media site does use information about our location, age, demographics and time of day to target ads to specific users.

So how can we protect ourselves from being manipulated online, and how can parents keep their children safe?

Susan McLean says first and foremost, young people need to be aware that "what they do online is going to be used".


Her slogan for parents is "talk early, talk often" and she encourages parents to read about the security tools available for Facebook.

Listen to This Glorious Mess: How to get your kids off their phones at night. Post continues after audio.


Importantly, she says, when your child signs up for Facebook, they should be entering their correct age.

There are two categories of Facebook users - those in the 13-17 age group, and those 18 and older. The 'teen' category ensures a more appropriate volume of content, as well as types of content, and also has more strict security settings available.

In light of the headlines circulating today about Facebook targeting vulnerable young people, McLean says it's crucial parents are "reassured" that their children should be transparent about their age, and aware that they are safer - not more at risk - if they're part of the 13-17 category.

She also says if your child is under 13 and wants to join Facebook, there's a major point to consider. "That's dishonest," she says. "Should they be being dishonest?"


Ultimately, McLean has a vital message for all Facebook users. "Don't live your life online," she says. "It's like anything... too much is never good".