Authors: Brad Ridout, Andrew Campbell & Louise Ellis
Title: ‘Off your Face(book)’: Alcohol in online social identity construction and its relation to problem drinking in university students
Journal: Drug and Alcohol Review (January 2012), 31, 20–26
Introduction and Aims: Alcohol is a key component of identity exploration for many young people, yet few studies have investigated identity construction in relation to problematic drinking. Increases in youth alcohol consumption have coincided with expanding use of communications technologies, particularly social networking sites (SNS), which have altered traditional conditions of identity construction. It has been found young people often engage with alcohol in the SNS environment by portraying themselves as binge drinkers. The current study applied an innovative approach to identity construction (the photographic essay) to provide insight into the portrayal of ‘alcohol-identity’ on Facebook.
Design and Methods: One hundred and fifty-eight university students completed a range of alcohol measures before providing access for researchers to view their Facebook profiles to operationalise their alcohol-identity according to autophotographic methodology.
Results: Participants utilised a variety of photographic and textual material to present alcohol as a component of their identity on Facebook, with over half having selected an alcohol-related profile image. Alcohol-identity predicted alcohol consumption and problematic alcohol-related behaviours as measured by questionnaires used to reliably identify alcohol-related problems in university students. Almost 60% reported potentially problematic alcohol use according to the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.
Discussion and Conclusions: Findings suggest that portraying oneself as a drinker is considered by many young people to be a socially desirable component of identity in the SNS environment, perpetuating an online culture that normalises binge drinking. Ready-made Facebook photo essays provide an alternate method of accessing problematic alcohol use, supplementing self-report measures.