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Social Media Giants Rake in US$11 Billion in Ad Revenue from Minors, Harvard Study Reveals

A recent study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has shed light on the staggering amount of money social media companies made from advertising to minors in the United States.

The study, published on Wednesday, reveals that these companies collectively earned over US$11 billion in ad revenue from children last year. The findings have sparked calls for government regulation of social media platforms, as concerns about the impact on youth mental health and potentially harmful advertising practices continue to grow.

The researchers behind the study argue that social media companies have failed to effectively self-regulate, highlighting the need for external intervention. They believe that government regulations, coupled with increased transparency from tech companies, could help mitigate the negative effects on young people's mental health and address the issue of targeted advertising towards children and adolescents.

To arrive at the revenue figure, the researchers estimated the number of users under 18 on popular platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube in 2022. They used population data from the U.S. Census, as well as survey data from Common Sense Media and Pew Research. Additionally, they relied on data from research firm eMarketer (now called Insider Intelligence) and parental control app Qustodio to estimate each platform's ad revenue in 2022 and the amount of time children spent on each platform. Using this data, the researchers built a simulation model to estimate the ad revenue earned from minors in the U.S.

Lawmakers and researchers have long been concerned about the negative effects of social media platforms on children. The personalised algorithms used by these platforms can lead to excessive use and potential harm to youth mental health. In response to these concerns, several states, including New York and Utah, have introduced or passed legislation aimed at curbing social media use among children.

The study also highlights the ongoing legal challenges faced by Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook. Dozens of states have sued Meta, alleging that the company has contributed to the mental health crisis. The researchers argue that social media platforms have yet to take meaningful steps to protect children, despite their claims of self-regulation.

The issue of advertising to children is not new, and parents and experts have expressed concerns about marketing to kids across various mediums. However, online ads pose unique challenges as they can be specifically targeted to children, blurring the line between advertisements and content. The American Academy of Pediatrics has previously highlighted the vulnerability of children to persuasive advertising due to their immature critical thinking skills and impulse inhibition.

In response to the growing concerns about social media's impact on children's mental health, the Federal Trade Commission has proposed significant changes to a longstanding law that regulates online companies' tracking and advertising practices towards children. These proposed changes include defaulting targeted ads to children under 13 and limiting push notifications.

According to the Harvard study, YouTube generated the highest ad revenue from users aged 12 and under, amounting to US$959.1 million. Instagram followed closely behind with US$801.1 million, and Facebook earned US$137.2 million. For users aged 13-17, Instagram topped the list with US$4 billion in ad revenue, followed by TikTok with US$2 billion and YouTube with £c.

As concerns about social media's impact on children's mental health continue to mount, experts warn of the potential consequences on elections as social media guardrails fade and AI deepfakes become more prevalent.

  • Social media companies collectively earned over US$11 billion in ad revenue from minors in the U.S. last year.

  • The study highlights the need for government regulation and greater transparency from tech companies.

  • YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook were the top earners in ad revenue from minors.

Source: AP NEWS

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