Harvard Study Uncovers: Social Media Companies Rake in $11 Billion Targeting American Youth

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  • Source: USA Today
  • 12/30/2023
A recent study conducted by Harvard University revealed that social media companies have generated a significant amount of revenue, specifically $11 billion, through advertising targeted at American youth.

In 2022, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released a report detailing the ways in which American minors and teenagers utilized various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and the older version of Twitter known as X, to generate significant ad revenue amounting to billions of dollars.

The research focused on determining the number of child (0–12 years old) and adolescent (13–17 years old) users in the United States, as well as the annual advertising revenue generated from youth across six major platforms.

In 2022, a significant number of minors, approximately 50 million, made use of popular online platforms such as Facebook, X, and YouTube. Specifically, around 7. million minors engaged with Facebook, while approximately 9.9 million minors utilized YouTube. TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram collectively boasted a staggering user base of approximately 18 million individuals.

The top three platforms that earned the highest advertising revenue from children aged 0 to 12 years old were YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. YouTube generated $959.1 million, Instagram earned $801.1 million, and Facebook made $137.2 million in advertising revenue from this demographic. According to the analysis, the expected advertising income for young people aged 13 to 17 was found to be highest for YouTube ($1.2 billion), followed by TikTok ($2 billion), and Instagram ($4 billion).

In a recent study, it was found that Snapchat's ad revenue in 2022 was primarily driven by youth-generated content, accounting for 37 percent of their total income. This percentage was slightly higher than TikTok, which contributed 35 percent to their ad revenue. YouTube followed closely behind with 27 percent, while Instagram accounted for 16 percent. On the other hand, Facebook only contributed 1.9 percent, and the remaining 2 percent came from an unidentified source, referred to as X. Based on the findings of the survey, it was observed that children who were 12 years old and below contributed to approximately $2.1 billion in advertising revenue on various social media platforms. In comparison, adolescents aged between 13 and 17 were responsible for generating nearly $8.6 billion in ad revenue.

According to reports, the federal government's efforts to protect young individuals on the internet have faced significant challenges due to the strong opposition from social media companies. As a result, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful.

According to the research, it has been found that there is a significant financial motivation for platforms to resist government initiatives aimed at safeguarding young individuals.

The purpose of this study was to provide information on the revenue generated from youth users and the number of children and adolescents who actively use major social media platforms. This study was conducted with the goal of promoting data transparency and encouraging political action to protect young people online. The intended audience for this study includes health researchers and policymakers, who can benefit from the insights provided to better understand the extent of youth engagement on social media platforms. Our estimations suggest that social media platforms should adopt a more transparent and regulated approach to mitigate potential risks to the mental health of young individuals. This recommendation stems from the observation that these platforms generate substantial profits from the usage of their services by young people.

According to Bryan Austin, a senior author and professor in Harvard's Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, there is a growing concern regarding youth mental health. As a result, policymakers are increasingly attempting to implement legislation aimed at limiting certain practices of social media platforms that may contribute to depression, anxiety, and disordered eating among young individuals.

According to Austin, our research suggests that social media companies possess strong financial motivations to continuously postpone implementing substantial measures to safeguard children. Despite their claims of being capable of self-regulating their operations to mitigate the negative impacts on young individuals, the evidence indicates otherwise.


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