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Is TikTok influencing kids to drink? What parents should know about new study

The top 100 videos with the hashtag “alcohol” had nearly 300 million views since 2020, researchers say.
TikTok drinking
TikTok is influencing underage drinking, with 98% of videos portraying alcohol in a positive light, researchers said. (Eric Paul Zamora | ezamora@fresnobee.com)

TikTok, a video-sharing social media platform, is all about trends. Unfortunately, underage drinking has become one of them, researchers say.

A study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found that the top 100 videos on TikTok with the hashtag “alcohol” had nearly 300 million views since 2020.

More than 98% of these videos portrayed alcohol in a positive light and only 4% contained “negative alcohol-related consequences,” Alex Russell, assistant professor of public health at the University of Arkansas and lead author of the study, said in a news release.

“Social media platforms, such as TikTok, can influence health behavior,” Russell added. “For example, increased youth exposure to alcohol marketing on social media is linked to earlier drinking initiation and greater levels of overall alcohol consumption.”

McClatchy News reached out to TikTok for a comment on this study but has yet to receive a response.

More than a third of TikTok’s users are under 21, Russell said. The platform requires you to be 13 years old to create an account, according to its website.

Russell and his team analyzed the 100 most liked videos on the platform’s #alcohol page, according to the news release.

The videos averaged 1.7 billion views since 2020, and were categorized into different groups, according to the research:

  • About 41% were guide videos “giving recipes for various drinks.”
  • Nearly 72% included videos on spirits, 23% on flavored malt drinks, 16% on beer, and 10% on wine.
  • Another 61% included the “rapid consumption of multiple drinks,” from back-to-back shots or drinking from the bottle.

Drinking alcohol was also associated with “friendship, familiarity and camaraderie,” according to the news release. The ones that did portray alcohol in a negative light, including hangovers or physical injury, were done in a humorous way.

“These videos were easily accessible through a simple internet search and could be viewed without encountering an age-verification process,” the researchers said in the news release. “Any non-registered person can fully interact with alcohol videos on TikTok, regardless of age.”

Despite TikTok prohibiting “content that depicts the consumption of alcohol, drugs or tobacco by minors,” researchers are unclear of how effectively the policy is implemented, the study said.

Russell encourages parents to ask themselves whether “they want TikTok to be where their kids get health information about topics such as alcohol use.”

“I’d encourage parents to do a simple internet search of ‘#alcohol TikTok’ and see if they are comfortable with the content and messages their children are exposed to,” he added.

He also hopes that public practitioners and researchers can use the platform “to disseminate science about the health realities of alcohol use and to encourage critical evaluation of alcohol-related messaging on social media.”

This isn’t the first in-depth analysis of TikTok.

The Wall Street Journal investigated the social media’s algorithm earlier this month and found that an increasing amount of minors are being driven toward sex and drug content.

The outlet found that TikTok doesn’t differentiate between what a 13-year-old can watch versus what a 21-year-old can.

TikTok says “that they have taken industry first steps to promote a safe and age appropriate experience for teens (and) allows parents to manage screen time and privacy settings for their children’s accounts,” the outlet reported.

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