Alcoholics identifiable on Facebook

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Whether students have a drinking problem might be indicated by the type of content they put on their Facebook page, according to a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Washington.

Researchers studied the associations between “problem drinking” references on the website and self-reported alcohol abuse.

The yearlong study examined public Facebook profiles of 224 undergraduates, ages 18-20, at the two universities. They viewed students’ wall, tagged pictures, profile pictures and bumper stickers to determine if alcohol references were present.

After doing this, the profiles were separated into three categories: non-displayers, alcohol displayers and intoxication or problem drinking displayers.

Alcohol displayers were considered those individuals with one or more references to alcohol use but no references to intoxication or problem drinking. Instances of this could include a personal photograph in which the profile owner was drinking a clearly labeled alcoholic beverage, or text references that explicitly mentioned the profile owner consuming alcohol.

Profiles with one or more references to alcohol were coined as intoxication or problem drinking displayers. These behavioral references included things such as driving or riding in a car while intoxicated, drinking alone, forgetting what one did while drinking or having friends or family ask you to cut down on alcohol.

Researchers then asked the students to complete a survey reporting their consumption, dependence and harm or consequences of alcohol use.

Megan Moreno, assistant professor at UW-Madison and lead researcher for the study, said the research went much differently than expected.

She said the majority of students who displayed intoxication or problem drinking in their profiles verified in their reports that they were, in fact, engaging in such behaviors.

Due to this, Moreno said it was possible for students to use a friend’s Facebook page to begin a conversation about their poor drinking habits.

“If you are concerned about someone, start asking them some questions,” Moreno said. “You can even reference their Facebook profile.”

The study also suggested that the displayed alcohol references could potentially help health care providers or college health systems identify students who may benefit from interventions to reduce drinking problems or alcohol-related injuries.

Students are wary of the accuracy of online profiles, though.

Lisa Jera, a sophomore in the College of Nursing, said gauging someone’s drinking habits from their Facebook profile is not possible. She said many people make their drinking more or less significant than it really is online.

Meg McCaffrey, sophomore in the College of Nursing, agreed with Jera.

“You put up (on your profile) what you want others to see,” McCaffrey said.

According to the report, up to 83 percent of college students’ social networking sites reference alcohol. This could affect students’ chances for employment.

A survey by Reppler — a social media monitoring service designed to help users manage their image — said 91 percent of employers use social networking sites to screen prospective employees and 76 percent of them use Facebook.

Nick DeMatthew, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said he heavily monitors what he puts on Facebook and thinks others should do the same.

“You need to be smart about what you post online,” he said. “Don’t put things online about drinking … it’s just not a good idea.”

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