The use of new digital media—including, e.g., the internet as well as the various forms of social media such as the status updating site Twitter, chat rooms, blogs, the video sharing site YouTube, the photo sharing site Flickr, instant messaging, and social networking sites (SNSs)—has increased dramatically among adolescents over the past decade, with virtually no end in sight. Ninety-three percent (93%) of U.S. teenagers ages 12-17 report that they go online—and 63% of teen internet users go online every day—to download movies, music, and software as well as for e-mail, shopping, job searching, banking, game playing, gambling, checking sports scores, etc. On SNSs, users can develop a personal profile that is linked with others’ profiles to form a personal online network. Social networking sites allow users to share ideas, activities, events, and interests within their individual networks. College students indicate that SNSs fulfill several needs, including socializing, entertainment, self-status seeking, information, and to stay in touch with family members and friends. Among the more popular SNSs are MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, and Facebook, the latter having more than 600 million active users as of January, 2011. A mid-2009 study found that 73% of online American teenagers reported using SNSs, a significant increase from the previous year.
This FOA is intended to stimulate two lines of research into adolescent alcohol activities. One focus is motivated by recent reports (see below) suggesting that alcohol use increasingly is mentioned and visually displayed on many adolescents’ SNS profiles. While it should be noted that most surveys that track youthful drinking patterns generally have not shown recent upturns in drinking frequency in this age group, the fact that these SNS profiles are created and displayed by peers who the adolescent perceives to be similar to him/herself raise concerns about whether, and how, such pervasive references may be influencing adolescent alcohol use. Moreover, as the enormously popular SNS among adolescents, Facebook, was virtually unknown—outside of a handful of elite East Coast colleges—less than a decade ago, any impact of Facebook participation on youthful drinking in the U.S. may only become apparent in the years ahead. Finally, as support for formal recognition of the concept of Internet addiction within the spectrum of addictive disorders lately has been advanced—and heavy SNS use might be regarded as a component of such behavior—it should be noted that several recent studies have reported an association between Internet addiction and problematic alcohol use in samples of Taiwanese high school and college students. In the U.S., as well, some recent research (Epstein, 2011) has reported an association between hours per week spent on the computer and adolescent drinking, with self-reported lifetime drinkers in this study using the computer for social networking more frequently than never drinkers. Insofar as consistent evidence has found that higher alcohol consumption in late adolescence often continues into adulthood and may be associated with alcohol-related problems, it appears prudent to remain vigilant as to the possible effects of SNS and social media usage for adolescent drinking patterns so that appropriate prevention steps may be considered.
Social media-based interventions research with adolescent populations comprises the other line of research that this FOA is intended to stimulate. Regardless of the roles of social media and SNSs as possible contributors to adolescent drinking and drinking-related problems, it should be clear that—as detailed below—they offer an exciting platform for preventive interventions aimed at underage drinking and related problems.