Alcohol ads flood young people’s social media

Young Australians are being exposed to an alcohol advertisement on social media every 2 minutes and 43 seconds on average, according to University of Queensland research.

PhD candidate Brienna Rutherford from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research examined the social media accounts of 125 university students aged 17 to 25, and found they had been exposed to almost 800 alcohol advertisements.

"We asked participants to scroll through their Facebook or Instagram accounts for 30 minutes and to screenshot alcohol advertisements," Ms Rutherford said.

"The results were confronting - 71 students, some under the Australian legal drinking age of 18, were exposed to 796 alcohol ads across the two platforms within that half an hour.

"This indicates how highly prevalent alcohol advertisements are online in Australia, particularly among young people."

Participants were also asked to identify the advertisements’ themes based on categories including ease of access, supporting local, ’healthier’ alternatives, sales incentive, binge culture and luxury.

"The students reported the most common themes were ease of access, subscription or home delivery, and sales incentives including special offers or bonus purchases," Ms Rutherford said.

Associate Professor Gary Chung Kai Chan said the study results highlighted the need for more restrictions on alcohol advertisements on social media.

"The current lack of regulation should be a public health focus, sooner rather than later," Dr Chan said.

"Being exposed to alcohol advertisements through online platforms can lead to an increase in youth consumption, a greater likelihood of initiating drinking at a younger age and riskier drinking patterns.

"More needs to be done to ensure the appropriate restrictions are put in place to protect potentially vulnerable populations such as young adults."

The researchers acknowledged some algorithms may have been impacted if a participant searched alcohol ads on social media or search engines ahead of their involvement in the study.

"However, the results still indicate more needs to be done to regulate advertising on social media platforms," Dr Chan said.

The research was published in Drug and Alcohol Review.