WSJ report: Facebook exposes teens to questionable ad content

There's new controversy involving Facebook: The Wall Street Journal is looking into questionable ads on the social media site that could be seen by teens.

One example: A teenage girl connected with a dating app heavily advertised on the site. That allowed anyone to see her photo, "rate" the girl and even view her Facebook profile.

The ads also extend into firearms and webcam territory with children ages 13 to 17 able to see a gun holster for using a concealed weapon, parts for AK-47s and solicitations to become nude webcam models.

Dennis Berman, the Journal's business editor, said the advertising services are automated.

"Any one of a million advertisers on Facebook can essentially reach those teens in whichever manner they choose," he said. "So the system doesn't have the controls, perhaps, that Facebook would itself like."

Facebook, responding to the Journal's report, told CBS News:

"We're disappointed that the Wall Street Journal decided to run an entire story focused on a cherry-picked number of ads on Facebook, many of which have already been removed for violating our policies. It's unfortunate the paper chose to omit the interviews they conducted with a number of marketers commending our ad review policies. No ad review system is perfect - especially one that reviews as many as ours does - but we stand by our track record of both educating marketers on our policies and effectively identifying and removing the vast majority of prohibited ads before they run. When we find or are made aware of prohibited ads, we remove them immediately and disable advertiser accounts if they continue to violate our policies. In fact, when the reporter contacted us about these ads, we had already removed many of them."

Asked about those remarks, Berman said, "The question for Facebook is how it wants to evaluate things that come onto its system, and in a lot of situations they didn't even know the ads that were on its own site."

He continued, "So, for Facebook and lots of other online companies, they want to automate because automation makes things cheaper and more profitable for them, but when it comes to teenagers - and things targeted at 13- to 17-year-olds - they may not just have the controls that perhaps they should."

Though Berman said Facebook does have some human intervention into some of the ads, he added, "I think perhaps the standard of care should be a little bit higher for those kids who are 13 to 17 years old. Some of these girls who were asked to come on and be nude webcam models - does Facebook want that to happen or not? Does automation solve that problem? I think that's the question to ask."

  • Amanda Cochran

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