Psychosocial Determinants of Teens’ Online Engagement in Drug Prevention Social Media Campaigns: Implications for Public Health Organizations

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Social networking sites (SNSs) now serve as a primary form of communication among adolescents. Consequently, drug prevention campaigns delivered through SNSs have the potential to reach a wide network of adolescents if teens are willing to engage in the message diffusion process by commenting on, “liking,” following, creating, or sharing prevention messages with their networked peers. However, little is known about the psychosocial factors that influence adolescents’ willingness to participate in drug prevention social media campaigns. We use qualitative methods to explore reasons why adolescents may or may not want to engage in the message diffusion process. We conducted four semi-structured focus groups with a total of 33 high school students from various school- and community-based youth programs in Rhode Island. Focus groups were followed by a brief self-administered questionnaire collecting information about participants’ social media use to augment qualitative findings. Overall, findings reveal that engaging teens in the message diffusion process can be advantageous but difficult to accomplish due to multiple factors. Most notably, asking adolescents to participate in drug prevention campaigns delivered through SNSs means also asking youth to violate online norms that promote drug use, which could in turn subject them to peer reprisal. We conclude that future studies should begin to investigate strategies addressing the various challenges we identified. Meanwhile, prevention specialists should consider alternative or supplemental evidence-based approaches to drug prevention rather than invest resources into activities that may offer little return on investment.

Publication Title

Journal of Primary Prevention