- On average, each citizen scientist sent the researchers 23 harmful industry ads over the two-week period, and many said they could have sent more. The participants who sent in the most screenshots received an average of 105 harmful industry ads.
- 97% of the ads seen and shared by the citizen scientists were “dark” to some degree. By “dark” it means that they are only visible to those targeted by the advertisers, are fleeting, and not published on advertiser accounts where they can be viewed.
- Participants downloaded and shared information that Facebook created about them in its advertising model. This data indicates that on average, the young Victorians in the study had 194 advertisers upload data about them, and the advertising model had generated 787 interests about them. Meta’s advertising model is tuned to “learn” predispositions toward the consumption of harmful and addictive commodities and reinforce them by assigning “interests” related to those products.
- 81% of young people involved in the study think the advertising of unhealthy industries they see on social media should be reduced and regulated. The participants described the targeted social media advertising using opaque algorithms as “manipulative”, “creepy”, and “annoying”. They also had many ideas on how this regulation should work, both on the industry and platform ends.
“With things like gambling, I personally don’t think individuals under the age of 25 when your brain is still developing should be advertised gambling services as it forms unhealthy and hard to break habits that could follow you for the rest of your life, so I would prevent advertising of gambling, alcohol and fast food to people under 25. ” (Russell, 17, male,)
- The volume of advertisements was concentrated among a small number of multinational corporate advertisers with operations in Australia, particularly in the unhealthy food, home delivery and alcohol categories, with 5% of all advertisers (n=48) accounting for 50% of all advertisements.
“I don’t think you should be allowed to advertise unhealthy food, drinks, alcohol or gambling all together. It is normalising unhealthy habits.” (Darcie, 20, female)
- The study found that young people under the age of 18 are being exposed to alcohol and gambling campaigns on social media. There were 54 participants in the study aged 16-17 and 67% of them were targeted with alcohol ads and 22% with gambling ads.
- The study also revealed that interactive buttons are now central to harmful industries’ advertising, with more and more ads on social media delivered with a call-to-action button, such as ‘Shop now’ or ‘Learn more’. These buttons push the ad to a shoppable product, directly linking the moment of persuasion to an opportunity for purchase – ultimately leading to consumption.
“Gambling ads should be banned, they’re an absolute net negative for society and my wallet.” (Ash, 21, male, Melbourne)
*These mocked-up screenshots demonstrate how ‘call to action’ buttons are used by harmful industries. These are not real advertisements.