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Study: Social Media Companies Generate Billions in Ad Revenue from American Children

A recent study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has revealed that social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok X/Twitter, and YouTube collectively earned nearly $11 billion in advertising revenue from U.S. users under 18 in 2022. The study found that the social media Masters of the Universe earned $2.1 billion by showing ads to children under 12.

Phys.org reports that the recent Harvard study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, marks the first attempt to quantify the extent of ad revenue generated from younger users on social media platforms. Senior author Bryn Austin, a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, emphasized the growing concerns about youth mental health and the need for policy intervention to regulate social media practices potentially contributing to depression, anxiety, and disordered eating among young people.

“As concerns about youth mental health grow, more and more policymakers are trying to introduce legislation to curtail social media platform practices that may drive depression, anxiety, and disordered eating in young people,” Austin stated. “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.”

Researchers utilized public survey and market research data from 2021 and 2022, including information from the U.S. Census, Common Sense Media, Pew Research, eMarketer, and Qustodio, to estimate the number of young users and the associated ad revenue. This approach led to a simulation model that revealed the revenue figures.

The study found shocking numbers: YouTube had 49.7 million U.S. users under 18, TikTok 18.9 million, Snapchat 18 million, Instagram 16.7 million, Facebook 9.9 million, and X (formerly Twitter) 7 million. Of the nearly $11 billion in ad revenue, $2.1 billion came from users aged 12 and under, while $8.6 billion was from users aged 13–17. Instagram led in generating revenue from the 13-17 age group, while YouTube dominated in the 12 and under category.

Interestingly, Snapchat derived the highest percentage of its total 2022 ad revenue from users under 18 (41 percent), followed by TikTok (35 percent), YouTube (27 percent), and Instagram (16 percent). These figures underscore the significant economic reliance these platforms have on younger audiences.

 

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