Social Networking and Alcohol

Concern is growing that social networking websites, such as Facebook, are not doing enough to combat the promotion of binge drinking directed towards the young. Startling statistics indicate that large numbers of teenagers use social networks to display their alcohol abuse despite statements from the websites who host these pages that this behavior would be properly policed.

The charity Alcohol Concern has said that social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook are not going far enough to deter the promotion of alcohol related advertising on their websites. They are asking website owners and drink manufacturers to ban the use of logos and advertising from sites that are easily accessed by under-18s. Although Facebook has a minimum age limit of 13 for users it is shown that many children less than 13 years of age make personal pages, with 27 percent of 8-11 years olds being aware they exist. Online verification systems are said to not be satisfactory as many young people are frequently posting pictures of themselves drunk to the point of vomiting and brandishing bottles of alcohol. These pictures are so common that the shock factor that should accompany them no longer exists.

Over exposure to images relating to alcohol will result in deeming drinking at a young age normal.   Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern says “There’s a real danger of children and young people being exposed to alcohol marketing on such sites, particularly given that age verification mechanisms are largely ineffective. This is especially worrying given that research shows that alcohol advertising and marketing have a significant impact on young people’s decisions about alcohol. It’s also increasingly common for young people to use sites like Facebook and YouTube to document their parties and nights out, posting details of their heavy drinking and discussing their favourite drinks. Many Facebook groups about drinks also mirror official drinks industry advertising and make use of official drinks logos. Much of this can be easily accessed by users of any age. The sharing of pro-drinking messages in this way fuels the normalisation of alcohol – the more people are regularly exposed to images and descriptions of excessive consumption, the more normal and acceptable this behaviour appears.”

New research from the U.S. at the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University appears to back this up.  They have found that in a survey of 12 to 17 year olds that those who spent a lot of time in websites such as Facebook and YouTube were up to three times more likely to drink alcohol and twice as likely to use drugs as those who did not.  Forty percent of those children using social networking sites had seen pictures of their friends or people they know passed out drunk or intoxicated and say that at least half of those pictures contain people under the age of 13.

The blame cannot lay directly with the owners of these websites; parents must also be held responsible. Stricter controls over the use of both alcohol and the internet by parents should be a topic that is addressed alongside alcohol advertising. Keeping a close eye on what your child is doing and posting on the internet may seem an endless task to parents but the dangerous consequences of not doing so are becoming increasingly more apparent.

Tracy Collins 2011

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