The National Center on Addiction and and Substance Abuse (CASA) has just released their “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI,” which claims that social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook can cause teens between the ages of 12 – 17 to be more likely to drink alcohol and abuse both illegal and prescription drugs.  CASA is headed by former US Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Joseph A. Califano, who accused social networking sites that allow images of teens drinking and using drugs of committing “electronic child abuse.”  According to the report, teens who have used social networking websites to view photographs of friends engaging in certain behaviors are three times likelier to use alcohol, four times likelier to use marijuana, and “much” likelier to have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs.

In addition to the questionable calculations, CASA’s report seems to mistake correlation with causation.  It is unlikely that the mere sight of friends and acquaintances engaging in a certain type of behavior will lead teenagers to engage in activity they would otherwise be opposed to.  Rather, teens most likely view their friends on social networking sites engaging in the type of activity they themselves have, or currently are, engaging in.

Actually, teen drug and alcohol use is lower today than it was in the days before the Internet and social networking sites took off.  Time Magazine reports that in 1995 the percentage of teens that reported smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol were both higher than recent reports, and the numbers from the 1980′s and 1970′s are even higher.

Perhaps most shocking about the report is CASA’s own apparent disbelief of its hysteria-inducing analysis of Facebook and Twitter use: its own website is sprinkled with pictures of spilled alcohol bottles, a girl reaching for a joint, and what looks like a ten or eleven year old boy lighting up a cigarette.  All of which begs the question: if CASA can’t even take itself seriously, why should we?

– Susan Reilly

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2 Responses to Social Networking Sites: Harmless Entertainment or ‘Child Abuse’?

  1. fkammeraad says:

    It is interesting that CASA made a mistake between causation and correlation. Is this to say that perhaps students who drink are more likely also to use Facebook? I also wonder how this effects other studies regarding the link between Facebook use and GPA? Studies have found that students who frequently use Facebook are more likely to have see their GPAs decrease. However, if students who drink are more likely to use Facebook, then perhaps the correlation is between drinking and GPAs, rather than between Facebook use and GPAs. Furthermore, a recent study suggests that it’s not whether students use Facebook but HOW they use it that matters. Overall, as you stated above, CASA’s study seems suspect.

  2. Kevin Lumpkin says:

    That chain of causation sounds questionable. Maybe the kids who drink and do drugs are more likely to have friends who also drink and do drugs and post pictures of themselves doing it online.