Amsterdam School of Communication Research / ASCoR

Young people mainly post moderate alcohol content on social media

19 July 2018

Why and how often do adolescents talk about alcohol on Facebook and Instagram? UvA researchers published the results of research on this question in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and Cyberpsychology. They conclude that alcohol posts have become part of young people’s everyday social lives, but moderate posts dominate.

The two scientific articles are based on data from a 4 years research project funded in the VENI programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. Hanneke Hendriks, from the Persuasive Communication group at the University of Amsterdam, received this grant in 2015 to study the content and effects of alcohol related posts on Social Networking Sites. The two articles are written with (international) colleagues.

Why studying alcohol related posts?

Alcohol use and binge drinking are consistently linked with negative consequences, still many young people regularly engage in these behaviors. This pervasiveness of alcohol consumption is becoming increasingly visible on social media like Facebook and Instagram. Studies show that young people frequently display alcohol-related posts, with percentages varying from 36 to 96 percent, making them part of young peoples' daily social lives and drinking cultures. Given the potentially severe negative consequences of alcohol posts, it is important to understand the exact content of what they are posting. 

Research methods

Hendriks and her team received access to the Facebook and/or Instagram profiles of almost 200 young participants. They assessed the extent to which alcohol posts were displayed and which type of alcohol post (from moderate to extreme) these posts most strongly resembled. All screenshotted timelines were coded in terms of social context, presence of people, and reactions to posts.

Research results

Research results show that:

  • Moderate alcohol posts in which alcohol was in the background were most often posted.
  • Extreme posts about drunk people or drinking-games  were almost nonexistent.
  • Alcohol posts of youth frequently depict alcohol in a positive social context and display people holding drinks.
  • Alcohol posts were more often placed on participants’ timelines by others than posted by participants themselves.
  • Social posts received more likes and comments than nonsocial posts.

Conclusion

In the articles the authors conclude that alcohol posts on social media are part of young people’s everyday social lives and embedded in the broad social context of individuals. At the same time positive associations with alcohol consumption seem to be more visible on social media than negative associations, potentially leading to an underestimation of alcohol-related risks.

Intervention plan to counter the harmful effects

UvA researcher Hanneke Hendriks will also develop an intervention plan to counter the harmful effects of alcohol-related discourses on social media. This intervention plan will focus on the broad social contexts in which posting about alcohol take place. The plan should make young people aware that alcohol related posts on social media may have unintended negative consequences and could better be avoided.

Publication details

  1. Hendriks H, Van den Putte B, Gebhardt WA, Moreno MA, ‘Social Drinking on Social Media: Content Analysis of the Social Aspects of Alcohol-Related Posts on Facebook and Instagram, J Med Internet Res 2018;20(6):e226
  2. Hanneke Hendriks, Bas van den Putte, and Winifred A. Gebhardt, 'Alcoholposts on Social Networking Sites: The Alcoholpost-Typology', Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Volume: 21 Issue 7: July 1, 2018 

Hanneke Hendriks and Bas van der Putte work at the Communication Department of the University of Amsterdam, Winnifred A. Gebhardt at Leiden University and Megan a. Moreno at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Published by  Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences