A new study shows that undergraduates' Facebook accounts may reveal whether they suffer from alcoholism. The shocking clue to problem drinking: lots of posts about getting wasted.
According to Mobilepedia, scientists looked at the public profiles of 300 undergrads, and broke them into one group that never mentioned alcohol, one that mentioned booze but not drunkenness, and one that was like "omg i was so drunk last night COLLEGE." Then they asked the students to fill out questionnaires designed to diagnose alcohol problems. Unsurprisingly, the students who posted about getting hammered were four times as likely to be diagnosed with problem drinking.
All this seems like kind of a no-brainer, except for this part: "The study's authors suggest parents and health professionals may use Facebook posts to identify adolescents who may be at risk for alcohol abuse and dependence, but also recognized this raises privacy concerns." It's good that the study authors realize that trolling the Facebook posts of college students who are, with perhaps a few exceptions, legal adults, opens up a pretty big can of worms. The study authors say they looked at public profiles only, but it's not a huge leap from there to scanning private profiles — how deep should college health workers go to protect students from themselves? Then there's the question of whether Facebook is even a particularly effective diagnostic tool. Social media expert Brian Myhre tells CTV,
I have to caution that what appears online may not necessarily be what happens in reality. [...] The internet, especially Facebook, is just a public billboard in a sense. (It can be used) to advertise yourself, almost as a celebrity in a sense.
Those who post about getting drunk may be more likely to have a problem, but targeting everybody who talks about drunken antics could turn up a lot of false positives — after all, young people love trading stories about kee-razy nights, and sometimes those stories get inflated. It would be far better to educate students about responsible drinking, and teach them how to talk to friends whose drinking they're concerned about — in person, not on the internet.
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