Flaunting it on Facebook: Young adults, drinking cultures and the cult of celebrity

Young adults in Aotearoa/New Zealand (NZ) regularly engage in heavy drinking episodes with groups of friends within a collective culture of intoxication to ‘have fun’ and ‘be sociable’. This population has also rapidly increased their use of new social networking technologies (e.g. mobile camera/ video phones; Facebook and YouTube) and are said to be obsessed with identity, image and celebrity. This research project explored the ways in which new technologies are being used by a range of young people (and others, including marketers) in drinking practices and drinking cultures in Aotearoa/NZ. It also explored how these technologies impact on young adults’ behaviours and identities, and how this varies across young adults of diverse ethnicities (Maori [indigenous people of NZ], Pasifika [people descended from the Pacific Islands] and Pakeha [people of European descent]), social classes and genders. We collected data from a large and diverse sample of young adults aged 18-25 years employing novel and innovative methodologies across three data collection stages. In total 141 participants took part in 34 friendship focus group discussions (12 Pakeha, 12 Maori and 10 Pasifika groups) while 23 young adults showed and discussed their Facebook pages during an individual interview that involved screencapture software and video recordings. Popular online material regarding drinking alcohol was also collected (via groups, interviews, and web searches), providing a database of 487 links to relevant material (including websites, apps, and games). Critical and in-depth qualitative analyses across these multimodal datasets were undertaken. Key findings demonstrated that social technologies play a crucial role in young adults’ drinking cultures and processes of identity construction. Consuming alcohol to a point of intoxication was a commonplace leisure-time activity for most of the young adult participants, and social network technologies were fully integrated into their drinking cultures. Facebook was employed by all participants and was used before, during and following drinking episodes. Uploading and sharing photos on Facebook was particularly central to young people’s drinking cultures and the ongoing creation of their identities. This involved a great deal of Facebook ‘work’ to ensure appropriate identity displays such as tagging (the addition of explanatory or identifying labels) and untagging photos. Being visible online was crucial for many young adults, and they put significant amounts of time and energy into updating and maintaining Facebook pages, particularly with material regarding drinking practices and events. However this was not consistent across the sample, and our findings revealed nuanced and complex ways in which people from different ethnicities, genders and social classes engaged with drinking cultures and new technologies in different ways, reflecting their positioning within the social structure. Pakeha shared their drinking practices online with relatively little reflection, while Pasifika and Maori participants were more likely to discuss avoiding online displays of drinking and demonstrated greater reflexive self-surveillance. Females spoke of being more aware of normative expectations around gender than males, and described particular forms of online identity displays (e.g. moderated intake, controlled selfdetermination). Participants from upper socio-economic groups expressed less concern than others about both drinking and posting material online. Celebrity culture was actively engaged with, in part at least, as a means of expressing what it is to be a young adult in contemporary society, and reinforcing the need for young people to engage in their own everyday practices of ‘celebritising’ themselves through drinking cultures online. Alcohol companies employed social media to market their products to young people in sophisticated ways that meant the campaigns and actions were rarely perceived as marketing. Online alcohol marketing initiatives were actively appropriated by young people and reproduced within their Facebook pages to present tastes and preferences, facilitate social interaction, construct identities, and more generally develop cultural capital. These commercial activities within the commercial platforms that constitute social networking systems contribute heavily to a general ‘culture of intoxication’ while simultaneously allowing young people to ‘create’ and ‘produce’ themselves online via the sharing of consumption ‘choices’, online interactions and activities.
Copyright © Antonia Lyons; Tim McCreanor; Fiona Hutton; Ian Goodwin; Helen Moewaka Barnes; Christine Griffin; Kerryellen Vroman; Acushla Dee O’Carroll; Patricia Niland; Lina Samu Print publication available from: http://www.drinkingcultures.info/
Aotearoa, Young adults, Alcohol use, Culture, Facebook, Social networks
Lyons, A.C., McCreanor, T., Hutton, F., Goodwin, I., Moewaka Barnes, H., Griffin, C. et al. (2014). Flaunting it on Facebook: Young adults, drinking cultures and the cult of celebrity. Wellington, NZ: Massey University School of Psychology.