The ASA has announced the results of a survey today about how children are served advertising on social networks and I’m pretty appalled, not just about the small sample size (24 children) but also about the various reactions I’ve been reading in the media. Parents and kids themselves appear to be the target of blame rather than being supported, protected or even given any form of education on how to manage the burgeoning world of social in the home. To say I’m exasperated is possibly an understatement.
The top line findings of the ASA survey, which set out to test whether advertisers were being responsible are these:
- All but four of the 24 children aged between 11 and 15 who participated registered on a social media site using a false age
- Ten participants (42% of children) were falsely registered as aged 18 or over
- Of the 218 ads served to those registered as over 18, 24 (11%) were for products that “must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear”
- Nine participants were aged below the permitted age of registration on at least one social media site
- Of the 427 ads the children saw in total, 420, or 98.4%, stuck to the rules
It’s the final point that irks me, the ASA research doesn’t say what kind of advertising they were asked to look at or go into details about ‘the rules’.
Not so long ago brands such as Nissan pulled out of their advertising campaigns on Facebook in protest against offensive content appearing along side their ads. The Everyday Sexism Project was behind the campaign and posted this open letter on the Huffington Post, urging consumers to target brands. Facebook which initially did nothing but defend itself and the need for free speech, then backed down, you can read the full story on the BBC here. It strikes me that the ASA is trying to prove that in just three months, this whole offensive matter has been cleared up; I just don’t believe it has.
Research released in April this year stated that 38% of children on Facebook were under 12 years of age or even younger. This study was done by MinorMonitor, a software for parents to use which keeps track of their social media and keep them safe. While this could be seen as a fear mongering campaign, it’s not just kids who are exposed and offended by content on social networking sites, as The Everyday Sexism Project has proved. David Cameron has also launched a huge campaign to control the internet, the full speech is here, but how long will it take for the grand gesture to become a reality and will we also be sacrificing the freedom of the internet by dumbing it down somewhat? It will be useful to see what the state of play is next year, but I’m more concerned about what it is right now in this post.
Virtually every parent I know is concerned about the world of social and digital and keeping their children safe, in the real world and online. At an end of term gathering of school Mums a couple of weeks ago, the hot topic of discussion was what kids were finding online when putting in rather innocent terms. One Mum told of her horror at seeing what her daughter saw when she searched the term Girls and then Pussy, another was still livid that her son had seen the now infamous beheading video that was on Facebook and YouTube. Children are finding stuff accidentally, and the netnanny-types of software block out so many sites like Greenpeace and Wikipedia (which means that doing research for homework isn’t possible) that it appears there is no middle, safe ground. This really does need to be addressed with all parties considered and no finger pointing or scape goating. Three years ago I wrote this post about Facebook Lite for kids - it’s a concept for amnesty and lowering the age of the network, and others I might say, so that this targeting simply won’t happen. I think it’s the way forward, because the flood gates are already open.
But let’s get back to the news of the day. The ASA goes on to say:
Our report clearly asks questions of social media owners around the effectiveness of age-verification and whether enough is being done to prevent children from accessing age-restricted content on social media sites. We will be raising these issues with social media companies.
Hot off the mark Facebook has already gone on the offensive and released a statement; basically telling kids to stop lying. Here’s an excerpt from an article published in Marketing today:
Facebook said that while the ASA report recognises that advertisers can be “confident that their adverts are reaching the type of people they want to”, there is little more it can do when children lie, beyond the measures it currently has in place.
The social network said that there is no online equivalent to the driving licence or ID card, making age verification a challenge for internet firms; adding that it provides people with tools to report people under 13 and that people can report ads that are inappropriate.
“But when children lie about their age, that value and intention can be undermined,” a Facebook spokesperson told Marketing. “It’s important for parents, schools, safety organisations – like Childnet and FOSI – and platforms like ours to encourage children not to do this.
“Simply put they will have a better experience if they don’t lie. Technology can help to spot children who do, but there’s no substitute for action by people who know the child in the real world. The ASA have highlighted an important issue and we are committed to continue to work with them, our clients and others to address this.”
- excerpt ends -
For those of you who don’t know about what age you need to be to create social network accounts, Twitter and Facebook are 13 years plus, while Instagram is 12 years. Brands signing up to Twitter can state if they are sharing adult content and when tweeters follow that account, they are asked to confirm they are 18 but there is no real verification, which Twitter has freely admitted (see ClickZ), I maybe wrong but Vine may also be 12 and I’ve seen adult content on it (by accident not design) and Tumblr, the social blogging platform has no restriction but it does have a NSFW setting (Not Safe For Work is the acronym used to warn people that links may contain porn or other adult content). It is astounding that these companies which deal with such vast amounts of data, have facial recognition, and sell highly targeted advertising propositions to brands are not able to create a more robust environment for children. (If you have any other info about age restrictions and age-gating, let me know.)
The parent blogging community is quite polarised about this issue; and so it should be. It’s up to parents to decide whether they want children to use social media or the internet at a young age, but there’s no denying that a lot of people are unaware of how their kids access stuff online. It’s not just a case of bad parenting, it’s one of the many issues in the minefield of raising children that we all face whether you’re a refusenik or advocate of digital living. However, the ‘I blame the parents’ default stance just doesn’t wash with this issue, neither does going to the opposite extreme and closing down the internet as part of a nanny state initiative work either.
What do you think?