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Advertisements on digital platforms: How transparent and observable are they? 


Woman sitting on couch looking at her mobile phone


Social and digital media platforms are part of everyday life for most Australians. While they are primarily used for connecting with our family and friends, such platforms are largely in the business of advertising. 

But they have created an advertising model that is data-driven, dark and ephemeral. This means that advertisements can only be seen by the individuals being targeted. This is particularly a concern for products that need public observation and regulation like alcohol, gambling and unhealthy food. 

Social and digital media platforms say they are committed to making their advertising transparent. We conducted a study to rate the transparency of their advertising models. 

Key findings 

  1. Digital platforms do not provide meaningful transparency of what alcohol companies and other advertisers are doing on their platforms.  
  1. No digital platform provides a publicly accessible archive of advertisements. This means alcohol advertisements can be published on digital platforms with little ability for these advertisements to be observed beyond the audience that were directly targeted with the advertisement.  
  1. The advertising model of social and digital media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok needs to be open to public scrutiny and accountability.  


Kiah Hawker; School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland 

Nicholas Carah; School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland 

Daniel Angus; Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology 

Aimee Brownbill; Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education 

Xue Ying (Jane) Tan; Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology 

Amy Dobson; Curtin iSchool, Curtin University 

Brady Robards; School of Social Sciences, Monash University 

This research is part of the Young Australians and the Promotion of Alcohol on Social Media project and supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project (grant number: LP190101051) 

Recent research papers

FARE continues to fund and undertake research that contributes to the knowledge-base about alcohol harms and strategies to reduce them.

This research is used to inform our approach to evidence-based alcohol policy development, ensuring that the solutions we are advocating for are informed by research. FARE’s research is also often quoted by governments, other not-for-profit organisations and researchers in public discussions about alcohol, demonstrating that FARE is seen as a leading source of information.

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