Mergendoller ’11 Challenges Facebook’s Alcohol Advertising Policies

Jacob Mergendoller '11 discovered that Facebook profiles may contain a great deal of alcohol content and are accessible by anyone, regardless of age.

Jacob Mergendoller '11 discovered that Facebook profiles may contain a great deal of alcohol content and are accessible by anyone, regardless of age.

Jacob Mergendoller ’11 is changing the way Facebook markets alcohol on the social networking site.

In a research article titled “Alcohol Promotion on Facebook,” published in The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, Mergendoller and co-authors Sarah Mart and Michele Simon explain how the social networking site Facebook changed its advertising policies and regulations from not offering online advertising to soliciting paid advertisements for products and services including alcohol products.

“There are a number of loopholes in Facebook’s enforcement of their own alcohol advertising policy,” Mergendoller says. “There are some age restrictions on the alcohol content on Facebook (meaning inaccessible to minors), but there is also a strong presence of alcohol advertisements in different forms which can be accessed by anyone.”

For the report, Mergendoller explored the prevalence of alcohol-related content found in popular aspects of Facebook profiles and identified aspects of Facebook that contain a great deal of alcohol content and are accessible by anyone, regardless of age.

Psychology major Mergendoller wrote the article during a summer internship at the Marin Institute, an organization which fights to protect the public from the impact of the alcohol industry’s negative practices.

“I was interested in the effects of alcohol advertising and the various ways it impacted youth in particular,” he says.

The authors offered recommendations for both Facebook and the alcohol industry to remove paid ads and other types of content promoting alcohol products and dangerous drinking behaviors in order to protect youth and young adults from the harmful effects of alcohol advertising.

Bruce Lee Livingston, executive director of the Marin Institute, published an article on the proliferation of alcohol messages on Facebook. He included a comment from Mergendoller and a link to his report.

“The only way to protect youth and young adults from the incessant promotion of alcohol on Facebook is to remove all promotional content about alcohol,” stated Jacob Mergendoller, student at Wesleyan University, and co-author of the article. “Eliminating exposure to this content is necessary if we are ever going to reduce serious alcohol-related harm among young people.”

Facebook officials were receptive to the Marin report.

“We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Marin Institute to challenge others to meet the standards we’ve set,” a spokesperson for Facebook said. “We plan to reach out to the Marin Institute in hopes that their research may have revealed violations in our policies and to open a dialogue around industry wide standards.”

Olivia Drake

Olivia (M.A.L.S. '08) is editor of the Wesleyan Connection newsletter and campus photographer. I have two dogs, five chickens and 30 house plants. I like snow, photographing firemen and enjoying "stinky" cheeses. Send me your story ideas to newsletter@wesleyan.edu. 

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