A cross sectional research design was employed to assess whether posting alcohol consumption pictures on Facebook influenced alcohol consumption patterns among college students. Participants included 445 individuals, yielding a 22% response rate. Sixty-three percent (n=284) of the sample indicated having an active Facebook account while 33% engaged in high-risk drinking. The results revealed that students posting pictures of themselves drinking on Facebook was the strongest predictor of their reported alcohol consumption, controlling for demographic factors.
Keywords: alcohol, social networks, and college students
Over the past several decades, the problem of alcohol misuse among college students has received considerable attention. The spring 2009 National College Health Assessment showed that 37% of men and 22% of women engaged in high-risk drinking (American College Health Association, 2009). Defined as the consumption of 5 or more drinks for males or 4 or more drinks for females in 2 hours, high-risk drinking may result in a variety of deleterious consequences including intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, domestic violence), unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, drowning), unintended pregnancy, violence, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, and poor academic performance (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2008; Naimi, Brewer, Mokdad, Denny, & Serdula, 2003). Hingson and colleagues (2009) estimate more than 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol related unintentional injuries and more than 599,000 students are injured under the influence of alcohol each year. These statistics illustrate the seriousness of alcohol misuse on U.S. college campuses.
As defined by Perkins (2006) "... norms are what the majority of people in a group do or how they behave, and what the majority believe about how they and others should act" (p. 1). These perceptions may influence people's behavior in a negative way and shape the college culture surrounding alcohol use and abuse. Numerous studies reveal college students overestimate the frequency of alcohol consumption (Perkins, Meilman, Leichliter, Cashin, & Presley, 1999; Neighbors, Lee, Lewis, Fossos, & Larimer, 2007), as well as the amount of alcohol consumed by their peers (Perkins, Haines, & Rice, 2005). Peer influence constitutes a strong force in determining personal behavior and the norms of peers are often misperceived and exaggerated (Borsari & Carey, 2001; Carey, Borsari, Carey, & Maisto, 2006; Perkins, 2002, 2003). The largest nationwide study of student drinking in the United States (Perkins, Haines, & Rice, 2005) found that the perceived peer drinking norms were more powerful in predicting personal drinking behavior than the actual norm on the campus. Inaccurate perceptions become normalized among peers, leaving them thinking that they are acting as most others. These misperceptions are what Perkins (1997) refers to as the reign of error, which exerts a detrimental influence on high-risk drinking behavior. Social Norms Theory posits students who may be undecided about drinking heavily are pressured by what they think their peers are doing and expect them to do; while those students who already choose to heavily drink, do so, thinking they are just like the majority of students (Perkins, Haines, & Rice, 2005).
Social networking sites such as Facebook are changing the nature of social relationships and the ability to quickly share information about oneself (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Approximately, 90% of college students hold an active Facebook account (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; Wiley & Sisson, 2006). Facebook provides an easy way of sharing information (e.g., name, photos, birth date, and address) with friends, family members, and strangers. This venue affords an instant forum for public and semi-private communication; consequently, a variety of negative outcomes exist with the disclosure of personal information. Despite the detrimental consequences such as rumors and gossip, unwanted contact, and stalking, use of personal data by third-parties, and hacking and identity theft, …