The present study examined the impact of socially based descriptive norms on willingness to drink alcohol, drinker prototype favorability, affective alcohol attitudes, and perceived vulnerability for alcohol-related consequences within the Prototype Willingness model. Descriptive norms were manipulated by having 189 young adolescents view experimenter-created profile pages from the social networking site Facebook, which either showed older peers drinking or not. The results provided evidence that descriptive norms for alcohol use, as portrayed by Facebook profiles, significantly impact willingness to use, prototypes, attitudes toward use, and perceived vulnerability. A multiple mediation analysis indicated that prototypes, attitudes, and perceptions of use mediated the relationship between the content of the Facebook profile and willingness. These results indicate that adolescents who perceive that alcohol use is normative, as evidenced by Facebook profiles, are at higher risk for cognitions shown to predict alcohol use than adolescents who do not see alcohol use portrayed as frequently on Facebook.

AIMS: In 2011, online marketing became the largest marketing channel in the UK, overtaking television for the first time. This study aimed to describe the exposure of children and young adults to alcohol marketing on social media websites in the UK.

METHODS: We used commercially available data on the three most used social media websites among young people in the UK, from December 2010 to May 2011. We analysed by age (6-14 years; 15-24 years) and gender the reach (proportion of internet users who used the site in each month) and impressions (number of individual pages viewed on the site in each month) for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We further analysed case studies of five alcohol brands to assess the marketer-generated brand content available on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in February and March 2012.

RESULTS: Facebook was the social media site with the highest reach, with an average monthly reach of 89% of males and 91% of females aged 15-24. YouTube had a similar average monthly reach while Twitter had a considerably lower usage in the age groups studied. All five of the alcohol brands studied maintained a Facebook page, Twitter page and YouTube channel, with varying levels of user engagement. Facebook pages could not be accessed by an under-18 user, but in most cases YouTube content and Twitter content could be accessed by those of all ages.

CONCLUSION: The rise in online marketing of alcohol and the high use of social media websites by young people suggests that this is an area requiring further monitoring and regulation.

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