In a groundbreaking revelation, a newly published study by the renowned Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discloses that Internet behemoths – namely Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok X/Twitter, and YouTube – aggregately raked in nearly $11 billion in advertising revenue from U.S. users under 18 in 2022. An astounding $2.1 billion of this total revenue was accrued solely from the tender audience of children under 12 – an alarming detail that has emerged from the first of its kind attempt to estimate the scope and scale of ad revenue drawn from minor users.
Social media companies collectively made over $11 billion in U.S. advertising revenue from minors last year, according to a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://t.co/nUXm3WR2Hl
— ABC News (@ABC) December 28, 2023
This historic study, published in the prestigious PLOS ONE journal, comes to light amidst growing apprehensions about the detrimental impact of social media exposure on the mental health of the youth. Bryn Austin, the study’s senior author and a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the T.H. Chan School, underscored the urgency for policy interventions to regulate online practices, especially those that feed into depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other psychological issues among young people.
Renowned social media platforms, despite advocating self-regulation claims, have yet to substantiate these promises through effective action. Austin noted, “Although social media platforms may claim that they can self-regulate their practices to reduce the harms to young people, they have yet to do so, and our study suggests they have overwhelming financial incentives to continue to delay taking meaningful steps to protect children.”
The team of researchers relied on extensive data gathered from public surveys and market research conducted during 2021 and 2022. They incorporated information acquired from several trustworthy sources, including the U.S. Census, Common Sense Media, Pew Research, eMarketer, and Qustodio, to estimate the number of youthful users and the associated ad revenue. This meticulous method led to a simulation model that unveiled the staggering revenue figures.
The study’s findings are truly shocking: 49.7 million U.S. users under 18 were on YouTube, TikTok had 18.9 million, Snapchat had 18 million, Instagram had 16.7 million, Facebook had 9.9 million, and X (formerly Twitter) had 7 million. From the near $11 billion in ad revenue, a huge chunk of $8.6 billion came from users aged between 13 and 17, while $2.1 billion came from children aged 12 and under.
Notably, Snapchat led the bunch with the highest ratio of its total 2022 ad revenue coming from users under 18, accounting for 41%, followed by TikTok with 35%, YouTube with 27%, and Instagram with 16%. These significant figures underline the colossal economic dependence these platforms have on their younger audience.
This groundbreaking study lays bare the sobering reality of the business strategy employed by the social media Masters of the Universe. These Internet giants, by reaping hefty ad revenues from an impressionable and young user base, are exploiting the vulnerable while neglecting their responsibilities toward safeguarding the mental health of children. What remains to be seen post this stern revelation is whether meaningful regulatory intervention emerges to curb these predatory practices. Ultimately, this is an urgent cry for action that calls upon the collective conscience of policymakers, educators, parents, and society at large. It’s the moment to put mental health above mega profits, young minds above mammoth earnings.