If you, like me, spend an embarrassing amount of time trawling through the depths of TikTok, you’ve probably come across the Sportsbets ads scattered across the app’s For You page — despite TikTok’s ban on betting promotions.
The app’s advertising policy says “ads promoting fantasy sports, bingo or other gambling-related content” and “ads coming from a gambling brand or featuring gambling branding” or “ads sponsored by gambling brands” aren’t allowed. Except in one case because, according to the same advertising policy, TikTok has allowed advertising for “one client who has obtained permission via an application process”.
A TikTok spokesperson told the ABC the company is running a “strictly controlled advertising pilot” with Sportsbet for the first time in Australia, which is ick considering you probably shouldn’t advertise gambling — a very addictive behaviour — on an app full of teens and young people.
TikTok, for its part, has maintained the ads will only be shown to those over 21 years old. How that will be enforced remains unclear though, since there’s no way to know if people have put their real birthday in the app when they signed up. And young people are certainly internet savvy enough to know better than to dish that info.
TikTok has different rules for children who use its app, and if those kids are anything like me when I was a teen, it’s not implausible that some of them would have faked their birthday to get full access to TikTok’s features.
TikTok told the ABC it reckons the ads it’s trialling still push a message to “gamble responsibly”. From the videos I’ve seen, this appears to be in the form of literally having the words “gamble responsibly” in small text over the video.
A spokesperson said there will be options for users to “opt out” of the ads (something I haven’t been able to do on my own TikTok account yet) and the app will remain a “safe experience”.
As if this isn’t already icky enough, the Sportsbet ads appearing on TikTok — typically funny skits made by TikTok creators promoting the company — often include jokes about attending horse races. No, not the critical kind. Animal cruelty and gambling for laughs, so fun!
Deakin University gambling researcher Samantha Thomas said the government needs to regulate gambling ads on social media ASAP, because most of our laws around it are for TV and radio.
“The current regulations around gambling advertising are quite soft at the moment,” Professor Thomas said, per the ABC.
“There are some regulations that are very much focused on television-based advertising, but we know that social media platforms are perhaps most of the media viewing of young people.”
No more jump scare Sportsbet ads on my FYP, please.