Facebook's marketing department is using algorithms to identify emotionally vulnerable and insecure youth as young as 14, The Australian reported today after reporters managed to get their hands on a 23-page report from Facebook's Australian office.
The document, dated this year and flagged as "Confidential: Internal Only," presents Facebook's advertising capabilities and highlights the social network's ability to detect, determine, and categorize user moods using sophisticated algorithms.
The leaked file, authored by two of Facebook Australia's top execs is a presentation that the company is willing to share with potential customers only under a "non-disclosure agreement only."
In it, Facebook reveals that by monitoring posts, photos, and interactions, they can approximate a person's emotional state into categories such as "silly," "overwhelmed," "anxious," "nervous," "defeated," "stressed," "stupid," "useless," or a "failure."
Facebook claims that it can identify not only emotions and state of mind, but also how and when this changes in real-time and across periods of time.
While this was to be expected from a company as advanced as Facebook, the document reveals the social network won't shy away from using its algorithms against youth as young as 14, data which it then makes available to advertisers, so they can target teens that feel insecure or are emotionally vulnerable.
The social network is using these points to lure in advertisers to its network, alluding it could help in targeting users, including young teens, in their most vulnerable states when most people tend to buy products and make themselves feel better.
The document specifically mentions Facebook's ability to target over 6.4 million "high schoolers," "tertiary students," and "young Australians and New Zealander [...] in the workforce."
Contacted by reporters, Facebook admitted the document was real, apologized, and said it would start an investigation into the practice of targeting its younger userbase.
Current privacy laws allow companies to collect data on users if its anonymized and stripped of any personally-identifiable information, such as names, precise addresses, or photos. Facebook said it respects privacy laws, but reporters said Facebook is in breach of the Australian Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children, an advertising guideline which states that advertisers must get permission from the child's parent or guardian before collecting any data.
Facebook, who currently boasts of a total monthly active userbase of over 1.85 billion, is the second online advertisers behind Google. A recent report revealed that Google and Facebook are cannibalizing 99% of all the money in digital advertising, and have established a de-facto duopoly.
In 2014, news broke out that Facebook meddled with people's news feed algorithms to test if it could influence people's moods.
Update [May 2, 2017]: Facebook has issued an official statement.