Children ‘Interested’ In Gambling Ads On Facebook, Investigation Finds
Hundreds of thousands of children have been marked as “interested” in advertisements about gambling, a new investigation has discovered.
The Guardian and Danish Broadcasting Corporation launched a joint investigation into Facebook’s advertising tools and found that over 700,000 children under the age of 18 were flagged as being interested in advertisements on gambling and alcohol. According to The Guardian, of that 700,000, 130,000 British children were flagged as interested in gambling and another 150,000 interested in alcohol.
Facebook’s “interests” are generated automatically by the social media giant based on a user’s activity. Advertisers then use these “interests” to target messages to specific audiences who have been flagged as interested in their topic or product. An example described in the report by a Facebook insider included an anti-gambling service reaching out to children with gambling or gaming problems.
However, this also means that a video game developer can target children flagged as interested in gambling and advertise their loot box video game (A game mechanic in which players purchase a box but the contents cannot be seen until after being purchased), all without breaking Facebook’s regulations regarding advertisements targeting children.
Reports state that these automated “interests” mean that advertisers who try to avoid Facebook’s rules regarding advertising to children have an audience pre-selected for them. What’s more, the social media website relies on automated reviews for flagging advertisements which break its policies but there’s no guarantee that the reviews flag these adverts before they run.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Facebook told The Guardian: “We don’t allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors on Facebook and we enforce against this activity when we find it. We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly.”
Gambling Addictions in the UK
The news comes after a study discovered that almost half of all children in the UK have gambled recently. Academics from Cardiff University carried out an investigation and found that over 40% of children aged between 11 and 16 in the United Kingdom have gambled within the last 12 months.
According to the study, scratchcards and slot machines at pubs and arcades were the most common forms of gambling. But it also found that children from ethnic minority backgrounds have a higher tendency to gamble and feel bad afterwards than white children of the same age.
Meanwhile, another study from the University of British Colombia discovered evidence that gambling addictions could be genetic. The study compared 20 people with gambling addictions to their non-gambling siblings and a non-gambling control group. They discovered that addicts and their siblings were more likely to act impulsively and place large bets when faced with high-risk odds.
What’s more, the NHS recently launched its first-ever gambling clinic for children in London which offers specialist help to minors and people aged 13 to 25 that struggle with gambling addictions. The clinic is part of the NHS’ expansion for gambling support services and comes after the organisation opened a gambling clinic in Leeds, the first clinic based outside of London.