Social Media Linked to Underage Drinking

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Source: Brooks Michael, “Teens and Social Media: Risks and Rewards,” carilionclinicliving.com, Aug. 22, 2017

Social media use is associated with more underage drinking because teens see positive messaging about alcohol displayed by their friends and peers, according to a study that will be published in the Mar. 2020 issue of Preventative Medicine. Increasing social media use one hour a day resulted in a 0.45 unit upsurge in frequency of alcohol consumption among students tracked from 7th through 11th grade, who were influenced by the social norms reflected in the social media content.

Researchers found that while increased TV screen time was associated with more alcohol use within the same year, the impact of television on teen drinking habits diminished over time. The study’s results actually predicted lower alcohol consumption with higher average viewing times over a period of four years. Restrictions on alcohol advertising during shows aimed at minors appear to limit their exposure to pro-alcohol commercials, but kids who watch content geared towards adults are exposed to positive depictions of drinking.

No significant relationship was found between higher average amounts of time spent playing video games and alcohol consumption, although increased playing time did predict lower underage drinking over a period of four years. The study’s authors concluded that teen access to social media and television should be regulated.

Lead study author, Elroy Boers, PhD, said, “The moment has come for social networks like Facebook and Instagram to exercise more control over the content they post. They have to show more responsibility when it comes to content aimed at young people — in this case when it comes to consuming alcohol.” 

Facebook’s alcohol ad policy indicates that ads should be targeted to people 18 years or older and should follow local laws as well as industry codes and guidelines. Twitter, SnapChat, and YouTube prohibit alcohol ads that are directed at minors, imply that drinking in excess is good or healthy, and depict people under the influence of alcohol, among other restrictions. TikTok bans alcohol ads entirely.

SnapChat, among other social media platforms, are becoming more proactive at age-gating, a practice that factors in more than a self-reported birthdate to determine the age of a user. Heather Kozera, Vice President of Integrated Marketing at Mast-Jägermeister, stated, “We have been pretty limited in the past but, over the past year, [platforms] are really making sure spirits brands can play safety.” 

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Should social media platforms follow TikTok’s example and ban ads for alcohol? Why or why not?

2. Do social media companies have a responsibility to protect underage users from seeing content that might be bad for them? 

3. Do you believe social media influences your decisions or behavior? Explain your answer.

Sources:

Elroy Boers, Mohammad H. Afzali, and Patricia Conrod, “A Longitudinal Study on the Relationship between Screen Time and Adolescent Alcohol Use: The Mediating Role of Social Norms,” Preventive Medicine, Mar. 2020 (accepted Jan. 12, 2020)

Facebook.com, “Advertising Policies: Alcohol,” facebook.com (accessed Jan. 28, 2020)

Google.com, “Advertising Policies Help,” google.com (accessed Jan. 28, 2020)

Ilyse Liffreing, “Snapchat Lures Back Alcohol Brands,” digiday.com, Oct. 31, 2018

Presse Canadienne, “Teens Who Watch TV, Use Social Media More Likely to Drink, Study Says,” montrealgazette.com, Jan. 28, 2020

TikTok, “Advertising Guidelines for US and EU,” tiktok.com (accessed Jan. 28, 2020)

Twitter.com, “Alcohol Content,” business.twitter.com (accessed Jan. 28, 2020)