Office of The National Drug Control Policy brief

Date: July 13, 2012
Location: College Park, MD

Youth and Social Media

• 95% of youth are online and 80% of those use social media.

• Conversations on drug-related behavior take place more on micromedia using different slang terminology than used in person.


• Accessible, ubiquitous, fast-paced, and dynamic nature of social media increases the possibility to influence a wide array of behaviors in youth.

• Potential to normalize and even encourage drug and alcohol use through images and online.

Real-Time Methodology

• Both automatic and manual methods were used to gather data from the Internet because many Deep Web conversations cannot be picked up using automated tools or web crawlers.

• Two data mining platforms, Collective Intellect and Radian6, were used to scan conventional social media sites.

• Content was evaluated based on distribution, demographic, and type of content available.

Virtual Scanning Findings

• Slang changes regionally and discussions flowed from state to state and skipped sometimes.

• Facebook, used widely, contains a smaller portion of drug conversations (14%), but has more alcohol-related content by older teens.

• Drug terms are more often used by males (60%).

• In July 2011, there were over 1 million internet drug postings in 30 days.

About the Office of the National Drug Control Policy Contract

Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal), was contracted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to research the influence of social media on teen behaviors. An original study was commissioned to examine the influence of social media specifically on youth drug and alcohol abuse behaviors.

The study approached the problem from four angles. First, it was grounded in a review of existing research on the current knowledge about the types of social media youth consume, drug-related content in social media, and youth responses to drug content in social media. Second, a 13-person technical expert panel (TEP) was convened from experts on media, communication, law enforcement, public health, computer science, and public policy. The TEP provided an opportunity for experts to share their ongoing research efforts and current understanding of drug content in social media and its potential influence on youth. Third, a focus group with young adults was conducted to gain first-hand insights and reactions from social media users. Finally, drug-related content and conversations taking place in social media on both the surface layers of the Internet and social media and those websites located in the deeper web were directly observed using innovative internet data mining strategies.