Facebook’s increasingly-younger audience is shifting alcohol companies’ presence on the social media, as a new slate of regulations seeks to preempt any negative impact such promotion may have.
The new rules require restricting access to spirits makers’ official Facebook pages to those of legal drinking age, and include monitoring them to promote responsible drinking.
The standards, going into effect at month’s end, were developed by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, or DISCUS, in conjunction with the European Forum for Responsible Drinking.
“What you have is distilled alcohol brands stepping up and saying, ‘We want to do things in a socially responsible way when it comes to advertising alcohol,’” says Hemanshu Nigam, chief executive of online safety and privacy firm SSP Blue and a digital marketing advisor to DISCUS.
Announcing new guidelines instead of waiting for rules to be imposed may be part of the industry’s proactive strategy in dealing with emerging issues of underaged social-media users and alcohol.
The announcement comes just over a week after Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse survey concluded that heavy Facebook and Twitter users are more prone to abuse alcohol and engage in other risky behaviors, adding to the debate over the relationship between social media, young users and risky behavior.
The national CASA study found teens who report using social media are three times likelier to drink alcohol than those teens that didn’t engage in social networks, and pointed to the sites’ images of drinking behavior as a likely cause of the behavior. Critics say the report shows a correlation between the risky behavior and the social media sites, but doesn’t necessarily indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, pointing out other factors may be responsible for the link.
Spirits-makers like Bacardi rum already list a series of “house rules” on its Facebook page and it reviews videos and photos before they are published so its content doesn’t show people younger than the legal age purchasing alcohol, or highlight instances where alcohol consumption is irresponsible or excessive.
But with any self-regulatory, industry-wide rules, the challenge often lies in how they will be monitored, and difficulties in monitoring large networks for underaged users in general may indicate the task is more difficult to implement.
Forty-three percent of 9 to 12-year olds in Europe have a personal Facebook account, according to a survey from the London School of Economics, and the researchers assert that matches U.S. numbers, with 46 percent reporting having used social networking sites. These figures have been increasing every year.
Facebook has a policy of not allowing users under the age of 13, which isn’t routinely verified beyond a user-entered birthdate. But the results illustrate attempts to monitor age on Facebook miss the mark almost half the time.
Still, a DISCUS spokesman said that the group will investigate companies reported to be not in compliance with the guidelines, and will disclose the results of those queries on its website.
Other rules include privacy policies to protect data collection and use of personal information, clearly identifying brand marketing and product promotions in media-like blogs, and instructions encouraging people only to forward promotions to adults who are older than 21 years old.