Facebook targeting Irish kids with junk food advertising

The author of a new report calls for government regulation...

72-hour challenge, Game of 72, social media, Facebook, Twitter, teenagers, missing, Ireland, France, US, Canada,

General view of social media apps Facebook, Twitter and Instagram displayed on an iPhone 5 | Image: Edward Smith / EMPICS Entertainment

Facebook is being accused of deliberating targeting Irish children with ads from junk food companies.

The Irish Heart Foundation has published a 'Who's Feeding The Kids Online?' study, which shows how kids are being emotionally manipulated by companies selling high-fat and high-sugar foods.

The report states:

"They use tactics with strong appeal to children and young people.

"[They] feature bold graphics and strong visuals, competitions, a strong emphasis on humour, fun and special days, links to entertainment, festivals, sports and other events, and regularly featuring sports stars and celebrities popular with children."

When confronted with examples, three-quarters of surveyed parents of 13-14 year olds were strongly against this form of digital marketing and described it variously as "immoral", "dishonest", "exploitative" and "immoral".

Dr Mimi Taltow-Golden, the child psychologist who led the report, issued a call for government regulation on the matter on Newstalk Breakfast:

"We need to stop advertising food using the digital analytics that these companies have. We need to stop targeting under 18s with these ads."

Recalling the Irish introduction of the smoking ban, Dr Tatlow-Golden said:

"This is a moment where Ireland should lead."

Dr Tatlow-Golden noted that parents are generally not aware of what exists online.

"The unregulated digital environment [is] where the unhealthy advertising is open season.

"So anybody who is over 13 – or who's under 13 with a slightly dodgy Facebook account – can receive these ads directly.

"The ad is now coming to them in their hand, on their phone, and their parents know nothing about it...

"What I see here is food companies and digital platforms working together, along with marketers, to disrupt the relationship that parents have with their children."