The latest study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has revealed that social media companies collectively made over $11 billion in advertising revenue from minors in the United States in 2022.
The study utilized a multifaceted approach to estimate the revenue.
Researchers analyzed the number of users under 18 on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube.
Utilizing U.S. Census Bureau data, surveys from Common Sense Media and Pew Research, and insights from Insider Intelligence and Qustodio, they estimated the platforms' U.S. ad revenue and the time minors spent on each platform.
Commenting on the study, Harvard professor and study co-author Bryn Austin stressed that "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 research also provides data on how much revenue each major platform derived from minors.
YouTube reportedly earned the most from users aged 12 and under ($959.1 million), while Instagram topped the list for users aged 13-17 (with $4 billion in revenue).
Snapchat had the highest share of its overall 2022 ad revenue from users under 18 (41%), followed closely by TikTok (35%), YouTube (27%) and Instagram (16%(.
The study sheds light on the insidious nature of online advertising to children, which can be more targeted and less distinguishable from regular content, making it harder for young users to recognize and resist.
In response to growing concerns, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed changes to laws regulating online companies’ interactions with children earlier in December. These include turning off targeted ads by default for kids under 13 and limiting push notifications.