This past year in the Healthy Online Platforms for Everyone (HOPE) Youth Coalition we have had many discussions on creating a healthy social media platform with the aim of dismantling predatory advertisements. The HOPE Youth Coalition consists of many teenagers who have noticed in their own school the effect of social media on people’s self-esteem. Many students will compare their lives or body image to others on social media, even though social media often represents a fake life for many. The constant stimuli of people’s ‘perfect’ life causes people to try to live up to their standards but in reality, leads to feelings of lower self-worth. In our meetings, we generally discuss social media’s influence on substance and alcohol consumption, teenagers comparing each other on social media, the addictive nature of social media, and limiting tobacco and alcohol consumption on a legislative level. Additionally, we often analyze many advertisements on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter that market alcohol products, either through organic posts or promotional posts.
My time with the HOPE Youth Coalition has largely been spent leading the model policy team and presenting to META (also known as Facebook) about safeguarding young kids’ social media feeds. In our presentation to META our aim was to combat the predatory advertisements on social media through age-gating policies, which set the age that people can view alcohol and substance advertisements on social media to 21 – the legal age for consuming alcohol in the U.S – instead of 18.
One aspect I want to focus on is sexually explicit content and its relation to alcohol advertisements. Many alcohol advertisements portray women as sexual objects and link alcohol consumption to sexual success. Moreover, studies show that alcohol advertisements influence men particularly to engage in sexual coercion. The prevalence of sexually explicit content is often used to grab the attention of teenagers. Given that 40% of people under 13 years old have Instagram, young people have a constant stimulus of sexual content. According to research from the New York Times and various research journals, for many young people, sexually explicit content can lead to an unhealthy addiction and often a skewed idea of sexual behavior. Moreover, research shows that alcohol marketing with women ‘models’ contributed to the sexualization of women. Many alcohol advertisements can set gender stereotypes for women and objectify them as sexual objects.
Oftentimes it is unavoidable as bots or fake users permeate all over Instagram and individuals are bound to see it. Moreover, when young people view sexually explicit content, it creates unrealistic expectations of intimate relationships in the future. For instance, 55% of people have engaged in sexual activity before age 18 because people feel it is normal. According to The Guardian, “children and teenagers who are exposed to sex through the media are more likely to engage in sexual activity than those who are not.” It is imperative to safeguard children’s future by educating them about safe sex and contraception; instead, social media normalizes and promotes sexual activity. Social media can often be a bad influence on teenagers and compel them to experiment with appealing yet dangerous things in life.