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Internal Facebook Note: Here Is A “Psychological Trick” To Target Teens (buzzfeednews.com)
196 points by tortilla on Aug 7, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

That One Weird Trick:

> We eventually identified a psychological trick:

> 1. Set the app’s Instagram profile to Private.

> 2. Set the bio to something mysterious, e.g., “You’ve been invited to the new RHS app—stay tuned!”

> 3. Follow the targeted users.

> 4. Wait 24 hours to receive the inbound Follow Requests. (They were curious about our profile so they requested access)

> 5. At 4:00PM when school gets out (The Golden Launch HouseTM), add the App Store URL to the profile.

> 6. Finally, make the profile Public

> This notified all students at the same time that their Follow Request had been accepted—and they subsequently visited our profile, looked at our App Store page, and tried the app.

What Happened Next probably won't Shock You!

> “You’ve been invited to the new RHS app—stay tuned!”

The Royal Horticultural Society are really upping their social media game.

Students hate them!

* Teachers hate them!

> TBH noticed that teens often list their high school in their Instagram bio. So, using a private Instagram account of its own, the company would visit a school’s location page and follow all accounts that included the school’s name.

The idea of a company targeting and following individual high school students on instagram does feel a bit "off" to me. If facebook or any other billion dollar public company were doing this, a bit of public uproar would not be out of line, even if it is perfectly legal.

But it sounds like TBH stopped doing this after they were acquired by FB, claiming that the methods were too “scrappy” for a big company. While facebook is of course now ultimately responsible for any actions that TBH took in the past, trying to make a big stink about it after they have already stopped (and using misleading headlines to boot) feels a bit disingenuous.

EDIT: I initially missed the fact that TBH was essentially pretending to be affiliated with the school of the kids they were targeting, by creating a new account per school and saying things like "You’ve been invited to the new <school name here> app—stay tuned!" (A fairly dumb oversight on my part as that's essentially the whole point of the story). This is indeed hugely deceitful and having re-read the article it changes my opinion entirely. Facebook should be banning companies that pull stunts like this instead of buying them out for millions. I would like to see Facebook issue a statement clarifying their position on these kinds of marketing ploys, update terms of use if necessary to prevent them, and also probably issue an apology.

> tactics explicitly designed to target young users

I know that the "target audience" is an established term in business lingo, but when FB is involved they mean it in the literal sense: "you can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave" (as the great poets narrated)

Isn't that how Facebook got started: by creating networks based around schools? I don't see the big deal, especially if the school isn't developing new communication tools for students.

I think OP's beef is high school vs college.

Are highschoolers considered not able to make their own decisions in the US? In my country, high school means you're 15 and up, and that means that you're basically an adult, with some exceptions (both de facto and de iure); then depending on how much you actually act as an adult, you're allowed to do things. E.g. it's possible to ask a judge to allow you to start a company; all contracts you enter are legally binding if it's reasonable that you understood them, etc.

Are highschoolers considered not able to make their own decisions in the US? In my country, high school means you're 15 and up, and that means that you're basically an adult

In the U.S., high school is 13+, depending on when the student was born.

Age of adulthood is 18.

Age of adulthood is 18 here as well, but you're a "limited adult" de iure (sorry, not exact translation, not sure how to translate correctly) between 15 and 18.

I didn't realise that US schools have lower age, though - but no one differentiates between the young ones and the older ones even though the majority should be older than 15, right?

I thought age of adulthood was 21 in the US? You can't drink till then or enter a lot of places alone?

You stop being a minor at 18 for legal purposes, but there are still random restrictions on what you can do (like drinking or buying handguns) until 21.

It makes about as much sense as it sounds like.

Yeah, at 18 you don't have enough sense to drink alcohol responsibly, but you are allowed to vote. This shows how little this country thinks of voting.

I think it has to do with 18 also being the age you can be drafted and sent to war. Theoretically, it keeps the politicians who send people to war answerable to those people.

It's also worth noting that until recently the drinking age varied from state to state. I grew up in New York and it was 19.

The uniform 21 age didn't come about until pressure groups like MADD went after the politicians. I believe that the feds ended up tying a 21 mandate to highway funding. (The same trick that's used to keep the public schools in line.)

And since we're on driving, the driving age varies from state to state, as well. It's as low as 16 in South Dakota. Most states it's 18, but lowered in "hardship" cases, like farm families where the kids might need to drive a tractor across a public road to get from field to field.

In South Dakota you can get a permit at 14.


Most states allow driving by yourself without an adult at 16, but usually have some sort of restriction like curfew until 18: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driver%27s_licenses_in_the_Uni...

I don't think the motive is necessarily creating stink. I think it may also in part be because other startups might want to use this technique, and YC is an incubator...

This seems fairly benign. What's giving it the coverage and negative feedback here is the fact that somebody call it a 'psychological trick'.

Is an ice cream truck playing music and slowing rolling down your street on a hot summer day also a psychological trick we need to guard against? Accounting for human congregations and 'appealing to their curiosity' is a part of the human existence.

Downloading junk is also a life lesson, they will learn.

> Downloading junk is also a life lesson, they will learn.

Mega-corporation - with deep pockets, professional advice, etc - stalks teenagers and does targeted personalized campaign, it is teenagers fault to fall for it... I see a "blame the victim" attitude here.

> Is an ice cream truck playing music and slowing rolling down your street on a hot summer day also a psychological trick we need to guard against?

The truck guy does not know my name, the school I go to or any other data beyond that I am in the neighborhood and can hear the sound or see the truck. The truck is fishing.

Facebook is collecting personalized data, creating profiles and targeting unsuspecting minors that feel "special" for being chosen without knowing the reasons.

> TBH described its methods as “too ‘scrappy’” for a big company.

So the same company that had the idea has the same concerns about it.

There is somethings that are not-so-bad (but bad) when done in an small scale, but become horrible at a bigger scale.

> > Downloading junk is also a life lesson, they will learn.

> Mega-corporation - with deep pockets, professional advice, etc - stalks teenagers and does targeted personalized campaign, it is teenagers fault to fall for it... I see a "blame the victim" attitude here.

You're really extrapolating quite a straw man from the original statement there. There's a lot of people out there that want to (and will, if given the change) scam you. Arguing that it's better to learn that in a way that at least doesn't lose you any actual money is not the same as blaming people who fall for it and/or implying that they deserve it.

what is it with the mindset that the really important thing is pointing fingers in a morally correct fashion? is there any problem that’s ever solved?

> Is an ice cream truck playing music and slowing rolling down your street on a hot summer day also a psychological trick we need to guard against?

Sure, but even something like ice cream truck music is regulated: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/...

But when will they learn? What if it's too late for them to claim their attention span back, as they go down the spiral of useless junk/social media? And what about the people who never learn - is it their fault? I suppose if kids/people learn to treat personalized (and well-timed) social media invitations like I treat 3/4ths of the emails I receive, it's not terrible, just more of the same, but at worst, those individuals most vulnerable to distraction/suggestion will end up even more distracted and hustled out of their money.

I understand that it's up to people to be their own judge, but people en masse are vulnerable to all this marketing stuff. This in particular just seems somewhat more invasive.

If you want to criticize the entire field of neuromarketing, fine - it's an interesting discussion to have.

But I agree with parent commenter in that let's not pretend Facebook is doing anything unique and/or the only ones doing this type of stuff.

What's the case for "billion-dollar companies using neuroscience to manipulate the behavior of individuals is a moral and societal good"? Neuromarketing seems pretty straightforwardly evil to me...

Are you against marketing in general? What's different about these advanced techniques? I see technology applied to marketing as a natural consequence of business. You have a point that it's not necessarily in the best interest of society at large, but how would we go about regulating the messages businesses are allowed to communicate?

Prescription drug ads do far more social harm.

"This shit will fuck you up six ways from Sunday but we make a ton of money off of it so ask your doctor..."

I've only seen such drugs ads in the US. Most other countries seem to realize that watching a 30 second ad is unlikely to make you more informed than a MD or PharmD.

It's not about being informed, it's - like all marketing - about being misinformed. And in this case, the intended effect is that the patient will pressure the doctor to prescribe them the drug they've seen on TV.

I don't think prescription drug advertisements are a good thing, but it seems to me the real problem is doctors that allow themselves to be pressured.

Which is why it is illegal to market prescription medicine to consumers.

Not in the US, of course.

In most cases I might agree with you - but as a counterpoint I would posit a huge problem among the medical community: patient compliance with treatment. Sometimes health outcomes have nothing to do with the treatment itself, but rather the patient(s) are not likely to adhere strictly to the recommendations. [Source: my graduate school advisor was a health economist - but I'm sure there are studies out there to validate this.]

Something to keep in mind: not all drugs are bad. And even those that get a historical bad rap are ok in _moderation_ - some drugs are very helpful and necessary for certain conditions.

If drug ads and/or neuromarketing can improve patient outcomes by improving the likelihood that a patient complies with treatment, then is that all that bad?

Prescription drug ads do far more social harm.

Because one thing is more harmful doesn’t mean the other doesn’t cause harm.

Is it straightforwardly evil? What if the thing being marketed is good for you? Would a neuromarketing campaign designed to get people to exercise more or eat more vegetables be evil?

> What if the thing being marketed is good for you? Would a neuromarketing campaign designed to get people to exercise more or eat more vegetables be evil?

Then we could debate whether targeted assault at free will is in principle bad or not.

As it is, neuromarketing is not used for good. It's used to exploit people.

It's like asking if killing random strangers on the street is straightforwardly evil, because there's a remote possibility that they're all alien shapeshifters out to destroy our way of life.

Dictators also do some good things to their countries, yet dictatorships are evil. The point is evil nature, not the occasional good side effect.

Pretending you're related to a school you're not affiliated with isn't neuromarketing, it's just lying to kids. Using big words for that doesn't make it bigger, and that it's not "unique" from the perspective of people who pull this kind of stuff is also not surprising.

When you find a bug, do you fix the bug, or do you go "ohh, but this isn't the first time anything ever had a bug"? When someone flashes you in the park, do you call the cops or do you say "it's hardly unique for this person to be doing this"?

The article is kinda meh, there really isn't anything to discuss, but that doesn't make lying to kids to push another product noble or interesting. I'd sooner interested in the upbringing of the people who enter that "field" than their own rationalizations. I've seen enough to know there's a problem behind the chaff.

So you are saying this article is more of a 'psychological trick' than the real content.

Winner winner chicken dinner.

I think the only part to me that seems a bit sketchy is that the pages were titled things like "TBH @ Some Random Highshool". It seems like their goal might have been to trick kids into thinking the page actually had some association with their high school.

They rest of the stuff they seems pretty normal and is actually pretty clever in my mind.

The irony is that this article is using a psychological trick to get us to read basically a non-story about how a startup tried to acquire users using not really a psychological trick.

"Facebook's Teen App" really means "Third Party App Facebook Eventually Acquired"

It's Buzzfeed. Their entire existence is based on psychological tricks. Ironic indeed.

I don't think this practice is shady in any way or manipulative like what Facebook has done in several instances. They used some techniques to raise curiosity and get some engagement. That's just Marketing 101, with the execution method being different for this target.

Also, so much fluff to get to the point? Buzzfeed, these articles could be much better reads with some editing to cut down the length, avoiding repeating points a few times and getting to the crux of the matter quickly.

> Also, so much fluff to get to the point? Buzzfeed, these articles could be much better reads with some editing to cut down the length, avoiding repeating points a few times and getting to the crux of the matter quickly.

Buzzfeed's "News" Articles Used Psychological Tricks To Make Teens Think They Were More In-Depth and Professional Journalism-y Than They Actually Are

The entire field of marketing is hinged on applied psychology. The way that this article frames basic marketing techniques in a negative light simply because Facebook used them is the pinnacle of sensationalism.

I don't disagree, but I think it commands a certain level of "is this really good for us long term?" to ask if the fact that hundreds if not thousands of PhD holding scientists have had their collective efforts devoted to making people buy as much, download as much, consume as much, watch as much, etc. as they possibly can?

I mean marketing is marketing and always has been, but where it is today the Mad Men era marketing guys couldn't have DREAMED of having. You can now target demographics with laser precision and choose the exact sort of message that's going to hit the hardest. I mean I'm all for marketing fluff and a certain level of salesmanship, that's what capitalism is based on. But you've got actual scientists putting their best foot forward to get Joe Everyman to buy, download, watch, play, stream, etc. and all the discussions I see about this paint it as even odds. That's laughable. Joe doesn't stand a fucking chance, and we all know it, and we all just keep acting like that's ok.

Every time I see an article condemning Facebook, there's always a Facebook share button visible.

And now you can even get them on Twitter! https://2fb.me what a time to plug my app to the unsuspecting HN crowd.

In order to reduce the likelihood my child is victimized online by questionable corporate behavior, I've redirected facebook.com to infowars.com in /etc/hosts.

I can't begin to express my horror at the idea of a well-meaning parent funneling their child into a pit of abhorrent fear-mongering, bigotry, and conspiracy theories. I sincerely hope this was a weird joke.

I bet it was a weird joke in the hacker sense --- however "not even wrong" the content of InfoWars is, you have to admit that it is a lot more thought-provoking than Facebook.

I don't disagree with blocking children from Facebook. Replacing it with InfoWars would be a medicine that's worse than the disease.

Exactly! Teaching them the importance of privacy and the harm of social media would be a hundred times better than redirecting facebook.com to infowars.com. I would be pissed off if my parents had done that to me.

Yeah, and in 20 years you kid will have an appointment with the AI driven shrink developed by Facebook...and it will be seriously pissed off when it finds out that you redirected facebook to infowars. Be ready!

I would redirect them to Diaspora, if they want to get social they better get social on an open platform :P

The trick itself isn't very shitty, but some of the mentality is:

"Our team obsessed with finding ways to get individual high schools to adopt a product simultaneously."

Seriously? getting a bunch of kids to adopt a product is what you want to obsess about? How about helping companies make a product that's not shit so you don't have to trick kids into using it.

Getting large groups of people to join a new social app is very tricky.

Take a dating app/site for example. You join - there's 2 people on the platform and they are no where near your location. People leave and the product fails.

Start a social media app/site that doesn't have the backing of a large company and large media/news advertising - you join, no one is there. People leave and the product fails.

Start an app like instagram where you can upload all your photos. The bulk joining doesn't matter as much, as the social aspect is not the primary purpose and that can come later. Product can grow and the "social" aspect can develop over time.

To be fair, all the toys/consoles have been similarly marketed to a bunch of kids (for example during after school hours) for a long time without anyone getting pissed off. It's just marketing. This doesn't really seem like a "psychological" trick to me.

Toys are marketed so you buy something that's (hopefully) fun.

Apps are marketed and given away for free to collect data on how to influence children. In many cases they're designed to be habit forming or addicting.

But we are talking about the marketing aspect of it here and not the utility of the product.

The utility of the product is data harvesting

It always amazes me how long Buzzfeed can hold off the actual content of the article with useless banter without seemingly losing readers. The title mentions 'a psychological trick', but delays the actual explanation of the 'trick' until the very end of the article.

As someone said above, the title of the article is a psychological trick itself.

So they did grassroots marketing? Like when a barber shop creates an Instagram profile to get the word out..

Talk about a rag. That article is 95% priming you what to think and 5% information. The audacity to to call out other media companies for psychological trickery is astounding. The phrase the pot calling the kettle black doesn't do it justice.

How do kids have a shot at a non-fragmented attention span when companies target them like this? I'm not suggesting this is anything new in marketing, but having social media app 1 feed into social media app 2 feed into etc... I fear it's harmful to society on a whole in the long run.

Given this article is on 'buzzfeed' is definitely a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The irony of Buzzfeed talking about psychological tricks lmao.

Hilarious that this is being reported on by BuzzFeed

Parents, uncles and grandparents getting on Facebook and other social media is basically the end of social media for teens/youngsters.

The one true thing teens want is freedom from parents and other relatives: they mostly represent a repressive force (positive or negative is not the issue) and they want to interact with other teens freely.

Articles like this make me want to switch from engineering to marketing - there's so much innovation and potential for creative solutions in this field that not may people are actually aware of.

By the way, what's Facebook Quick Promotion that they mention? Is this a special kind of ad on Facebook?

Everything about FB has been psych tactics since day one. This is not unique to FB, though they do have a fascinating resemblance to all the tests I took in the military, broken down into smaller pieces which I think the military could learn from.

I guess we all forgot that time way back when Gmail was invite-only and you had to beg someone for a way in.

What a dirty trick I must say.

What makes it dirty?

Information asymmetry.

I see they have not mentioned the methodology of the said psychological trick anywhere

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