Bad Influence: Secret social media partnership boosts alcohol intake for teens

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By VIVIAN TANG

The alcohol industry has turned to social media to boost sales and Victoria’s youth are suffering for it.

Research by VicHealth found alcohol companies were partnering with Australia’s top social media influencers to promote their products, with a total of 73 per cent of Australia’s top influencers featuring alcoholic drinks on their Instagram accounts in the past year.

Despite some influencers having upwards of 100,000 followers, the “paid partnership” feature on Instagram was rarely disclosed for alcohol collaborations.

As a result, for every advertising dollar spent, VicHealth recorded that young people were drinking 3 per cent more alcohol.

Paid social media posts about alcohol amount to advertisements, but the public is rarely told that’s what they’re looking at. PHOTO: Instagram

Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokeswoman Laura Bajurny said the normalisation of alcohol within Australian culture undoubtedly createdan uphill battle for people working in [this] field”.

“It’s incredibly difficult to deal with now because the industry is so wealthy and powerful,” she said.

“We can’t even get alcohol ads banned or even properly monitored.”

School counsellor Beth Sarlos said young people were not only drinking earlier but becoming tangled in a culture where drinking to excess was considered necessary to have a good time.

Young teens seemingly consider it “okay to get drunk and almost paralytic sometimes”, she said.

School counsellor Beth Sarlos is worried social media is normalising intoxication for teens. PHOTO: Vivian Tang

Ms Sarlos said alcohol inhibited adolescents’ capacity for logical decision making.

Figures reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed that from 2016 to 2017 alone, 83 per cent of risky drinkers aged 14-19 years, reported injuries as a result of their drinking.

Ms Sarlos said it was combat the issue in an effective way.

“It’s about using the platform that’s most relevant to young people,” she said.

“If there are influencers out there, how do we work with those influencers in order to be able to see those [educational] messages out,” she said.