Study Says Children Are Targeted by Gambling Ads on Facebook

The new study was completed in partnership between VicHealth and researchers from the University of Queensland and Monash University. It probed into gambling ads seen on social media by 16-to-25-year-olds.

Overall, the report examined data from 83 young people. From that total, 54 of the participants were aged 16 and 17 years old. The recent whitepaper revealed that each of the 54 participants had “assigned an average of 787 advertising interests by 194 advertisers.” But what’s worrying is that the advertisements included gambling, unhealthy food and alcohol companies.

Alcohol ads were most prevalent in the 16 to 17 years-old group, with such ads appearing in the feeds of 93% of that test group. Looking at the bigger picture, 42% of all participants age 16 to 25 years had assigned advertisements about alcohol within their interests on Facebook, the study claims. Some 21% of the 16 to 25 years old had assigned gambling as interest.

When it comes to how often the ads were seen by the 16-to-17-years old group, 62% admitted to seeing gambling ads regularly or sometimes. A similar percentage was observed when it comes to alcohol ads with 58.6% admitting to seeing such ads sometimes or regularly.

“Unhealthy food ads were the most common; participants aged 16 years captured 244 unhealthy food ads, 19 alcohol ads and 1 gambling ad, while 17-year-olds captured 493 unhealthy food ads, 85 alcohol ads and 49 gambling ads,“

explains the new study

Urgent Changes Are Needed

Caterina Giorgi, FARE’s CEO, explained that seeing an algorithm on Facebook attach alcohol as an interest for children is unacceptable. She urged for reform in the sector and the protection of children that are online.

“Governments need to implement common sense reforms to protect children and young people from being bombarded with digital marketing of alcohol, gambling and unhealthy food.“

Caterina Giorgi, CEO at FARE

Giorgi warned that companies that offer unhealthy foods, alcohol and gambling services are leveraging machine learning to try and sell their addictive products to children. According to her, unless a change is implemented, the children may have an interest in such products when they grow up.

“In their ad model, Facebook attached more alcohol-related keywords to young people who drank more alcohol.“

Nicholas Carah, Associate Professor and Director of Digital Cultures and Societies at the University of Queensland

Nicholas Carah, an Associate Professor and Director of Digital Cultures and Societies at the University of Queensland, added that the study uncovered a trend that children, under the age of 18, are specifically targeted by unhealthy foods, alcohol and gambling ads. He pointed out that a link was uncovered between the use of alcohol and alcohol-related keywords. Finally, Carah explained that the new whitepaper suggests that Facebook is identified young people that have consumed alcohol for example and then targets them with such ads.