Research reveals children are engaging with gambling ads on social media

Digital arcade score board Over a quarter of those engaging with esports betting tweets are children under the age of 16, according to a new report by Bristol’s Professor Agnes Nairn.

In 2016, research conducted by Demos found a broad and well-connected ecosystem existing between online gambling companies, affiliates and their customers.

Due to the scale and complexity of these platforms, understanding how they operate has proved challenging, resulting in considerable knowledge gaps when it comes to the experiences of children online.

Biddable Youth (PDF, 1,656kB), a report that forms part of a larger project by GambleAware, aims to fill some of these gaps.

Prepared by Professor Agnes Nairn in collaboration with the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos, the report takes a detailed view of the volume, frequency and nature of gambling advertising on Twitter, as well as measuring the extent to which children consume and react to it.

Its findings have been featured in major publications such as the Telegraph and the Times.

The report reveals that 28% of those retweeting or replying to esports betting tweets in the UK are children under 16; over five times the amount responding to traditional bookmakers.

The figure rises to a staggering 45% for esports worldwide.

The research also reveals how esports betting companies flout advertising regulations. Twitter adverts consistently show pictures of competitive players most of whom are under 25 thus automatically contravening the regulation that forbids under 25s from appearing in gambling adverts.

Analysis shows 74% of esports tweets and 68% of traditional sports tweets appeared not to comply with advertising regulations in some way – for example, presenting gambling as an income source or encouraging gambling at unsociable times.

To compile these findings, the research team analysed over 888,000 betting-related tweets over a period of nine months. The University of Bristol’s research centred around content analysis of 800 tweets containing imagery. Headed by Agnes Nairn, supported by Raffaello Rossi and Jie Sheng, the University analysed and compared the content used by online gambling accounts, examining the age and gender of people featured in their tweets, the types of imagery used, and the emotions evoked by these adverts.

They then looked at the extent to which the content featured in these adverts might be considered appealing to children, young people and the vulnerable.

In order to tackle the problems raised by this research, the report calls for technology companies to make better use of age verification tools and AdTech to screen out children from gambling ads, and for regulators to both continue to pursue those breaking the rules and consider tightening regulations.

A full list of the report’s findings and recommendations can be found on the Policy Bristol website.

Visit the Times Higher Education for the latest on High stakes research into online gambling from Professor Agnes Nairn.