Every August, British 16-year-olds get their marks from the GCSE exams, a high-stakes test that has an enormous impact on their future educational and earnings prospects; on results day 2015, the British Army used Facebook targeting to reach these 16-year-olds with messages like "No matter what your results will be, you can still improve yourself in the army."
The campaign has been condemned by Child Soldiers International. The UK is the only EU member-state where 16 year olds can join the army. A leaked Army document published in 2017 found that the army was targeting the poorest children in the UK for recruitment, focusing on those coming from families with annual incomes below £10,000.
“Explicitly doing so around GCSE results day is exploitative and preys on those who may be panicking after getting disappointing results in their exams. The MoD should be enforcing the policy of successive governments to support the most disadvantaged teenagers to succeed academically, gaining at least a grade C GCSE in English and maths, including through resits if necessary.
“It should not be exploiting the disappointment of the most vulnerable teens. The answer to these issues is not underage enlistment, it is proper state investment in a full range of educational and training opportunities for all.”
British army used Facebook adverts to recruit 'stressed' teenagers on GCSE results day, charity claims [Olivier Wheaton/Independent]