Facebook says emotion targeting claims are "just rubbish"

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 2 May 2017

Facebook has rejected claims it targets individuals based on their emotional state, labelling reports in The Australian that it allows advertisers to target insecure and vulnerable young people as “just rubbish”.

The social media platform tells AdNews it cannot target individuals based on their emotional state and that an internal document two sales executives presented to a media agency partner has been misconstrued.

The Australian's coverage of the issue centres around a 23-page Facebook document, which it says outlined how the tech giant could identify “moments when young people need a confidence boost”. The article suggests Facebook monitors posts and activity from users as young as 14 to work out their emotional state.

Facebook tells AdNews there are several aspects of the article that are inaccurate, including the state of the Australian business, Facebook's new MD and the seniority of the sales executives who presented confidential information about Facebook products and developments to an agency partner.

AdNews understands the document, among other things, highlights how aggregated, non-personally identifiable data can provide insights to advertisers to help them shape creative. These insights can include moments in the week, for example, when users are most likely to feel happy or less confident or nervous and so on.

Facebook stresses it does not monitor the posts of individuals or allow advertisers to target ads to audiences based on emotion data.

Fears about how Facebook uses its vast wealth of user data are nothing new and the social media platform's ability to hypertarget audiences is one of its major selling points to advertisers.

It's also one aspect that other publishers are trying to improve in order to better compete in the digital space.

AdNews approached several media buyers about whether they had heard Facebook present anything on emotion-based targeting.

The unanimous answer was 'no', but none were willing to comment beyond that due to the sensitive nature of the issue. 

Facebook targeting

The social network's targeting capability is restricted to details about demographics, such as age, gender, relationship status, workplace, education and other details individuals fill out in the 'about' section.

It also allows targeting of location and interests that are drawn from a users' listed interests, activities, education, job titles and pages or groups they have liked.

Targeting also allows advertisers to reach users based on their purchasing behaviour, device usage and other activities on the platform.

In a statement yesterday, Facebook said: “The premise of the article is misleading. Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state.

“The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated.”

In relation to the document, Facebook has said the research “did not follow that process and we are reviewing the details to correct the oversight”.

More details about Facebook's targeting capability can be found here. Details on how users can alter their ad preference settings can be found here.

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