A new report by campaigning charity Alcohol Concern reveals the growing importance to alcohol companies of social networking sites like Facebook and video sharing sites such as YouTube as a means of promoting their products.
It is also concerned at what it says are the inadequacies of online age verification pages aimed at preventing under 18s from accessing content intended for adults.
The report New media, new problem? also highlights the frequent practice of users of social networks posting pictures and descriptions of themselves drinking and being drunk, and asks why so many of us choose to publicise our alcohol consumption in this way.
It says health bodies need to counter official alcohol marketing and pro-drinking messages on the internet by fully embracing and utilising new media themselves as a means to promote alcohol-related health messages.
And it wants official alcohol marketing to be banned from social networking sites and for alcohol producers and site administrators to end the unauthorised use of drinks logos and advertising images on social networking sites
It says age affirmation pages are “ineffective” at restricting young people’s access to websites containing alcohol-related content and calls research to find better ways to control access. In the meantime it wants alcohol brand websites to only contain straightforward factual information about products.
The report found that:
- According to a recent survey, 37% of children aged 13-15 year olds have seen photos of their friends drunk on social networking sites.
- 8% of year 9 pupils and 25% of year 11 pupils in Wales have been drunk at least 4 times, whilst 14% of year 9 pupils and 31% of year 11 pupils in Wales drink alcohol every week.
- Almost half (49%) of children aged 8-17 in the UK have set up their own profile on a SNS. Despite the fact that the minimum age for most SNSs is 13 years, 27% of 8-11 year olds who are aware of such sites state they have a user profile.
Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker said the alcohol industry has “very effectively taken advantage of internet technology as a means of promoting its products”.
He said that most of the leading drinks companies have a presence on Facebook or Twitter, plus their own websites which often contain content likely to be attractive to young people, such as games and videos, competitions and prizes.“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 who are regularly exposed to images and descriptions of excessive consumption, the more normal and acceptable this behaviour appears.”