On 1 May, readers of The Australian woke up to a story that seemed more appropriate for the pages of a dystopian sci-fi novel: ‘Facebook is using sophisticated algorithms to identify and exploit Australians as young as 14, by allowing advertisers to target them at their most vulnerable, including when they feel “worthless” and “insecure”, secret internal documents reveal.’ A 23-page Facebook document seen by The Australian marked ‘Confidential: Internal only’ and dated 2017, outlines how the social network can target ‘moments when young people need a confidence boost’ in pinpoint detail.
will abandon Facebook
By monitoring posts, pictures, interactions and internet activity in real time, Facebook can work out when young people feel ‘stressed’, ‘defeated’, ‘overwhelmed’, ‘anxious’, ‘nervous’, ‘stupid’, ‘silly’, ‘useless’ and a ‘failure’, the document states. That evening, the panel on Ten’s nightly current affairs show The Project reflected a national mood of revulsion and anger at the exploitation and targeting of a population that was both unworldly and emotionally vulnerable. It might continuously proclaim its mission to ‘help everyone share’, but Facebook had been revealed in a new and inimical light.
Facebook quickly issued a press release: the social media giant would work to ‘understand the process failure and improve our oversight’. The relief was temporary. It soon came to light that the original document had been written by two of Facebook’s senior Australian executives. It seemed deliberate emotional monitoring and exploitation might be central to the entire rationale of Facebook. ‘In its statement to The Australian, Facebook refused to disclose if the practice exists elsewhere.’
— Mark Pesce