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Social media apps made $11 billion from children and teens in 2022

When it comes to children’s mental health and privacy, their loss translates into massive gains for social media companies: $11 billion, to be exact.

That’s according to a new Harvard study that shows social media platforms last year generated $11 billion in revenue from advertising directed at children and teenagers, including nearly $2 billion in ad profits derived from users age 12 and under. 

Snaphat, TikTok and Youtube reaped the highest share of those billions, approximately 30% – 40% combined, according to the findings. 

“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,” said S. Bryn Austin, one of the authors of the study and a professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


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Youtube, Instagram and Facebook brought in hundreds of millions of dollars last year in profits from advertising targeting children who use the platforms, generating $959.1 million, $801.1 million and $137.2 million respectively, Harvard researchers found. That same year, Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube generated a whopping $4 billion, $2 billion and $1.2 billion respectively in revenue from ads aimed at users in their teens. 

The study, which draws from public survey and market research data from 2021 and 2022, focuses on two age groups within the U.S.: children 12 years old and younger and adolescents ranging from 13 to 17 years old.  Researchers examined advertising activities of both groups across six popular social media platforms: Youtube, X, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat.

Mounting pressure for child protections

Social media platforms have increasingly come under fire as health officials express concern over the potential harmful effects of apps like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok on young peoples’ mental health. 

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in May called for stronger guidelines for social media use among children and teens, pointing to a growing body of research that the platforms may pose what he described as a “profound risk” to young people’s mental health.

As reported by CBS’ 60 Minutes in June the number of families pursuing lawsuits has grown to over 2,000 since last December. More than 350 lawsuits are expected to move forward this year against TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, Roblox and Meta — the parent company to Instagram and Facebook.


Suing Social Media: Families say social media algorithms put their kids in danger | 60 Minutes

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More recently, attorneys general in 33 states filed a federal lawsuit against Meta in October, claiming that the company harmed young users on its Facebook and Instagram platforms through the use of highly manipulative tactics to attract and sustain engagement, as it illegally collected personal information from children without parental consent.

Also in October, New York lawmakers proposed legislation to prohibit minors from accessing what they described as “addictive feeds” without parental consent.

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