Underage drinking row spills over onto Bebo and Facebook

Alcohol branded fan pages and groups on social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook have come under the spotlight after the Scottish Youth Commission on Alcohol claimed thousands of school age children are accessing such pages.

A survey carried out by the group identified more than 19,000 groups dedicated to alcohol on Bebo alone with one of the most popular, a group called ‘Lovers of WKD, the vodka based drink’ which boasts 77,901 members. Many of these subscribers posted profile images suggestive of underage users, including pictures of children in school uniforms.

One user, Allys Girl, posted from her mobile: “put wkd with straight vodka best vibe eeh your life xx

An equivalent Facebook page, “WKD doesn’t make you drunk… so stop pretending!” attracted 10,120 members.

Although these groups are set up by users it is often difficult to distinguish between user generated content and social sites, a point which the commission’s Tobias Paul believes is changing traditional methods of advertising and marketing.

Speaking at a London conference on alcohol Tobias said this was having a significant influence on young people: “There is peer pressure on young people to try that product or drink this one,” he claimed.

A key issue is that unlike conventional advertising there is no legal framework in place governing online marketing of alcohol in this way, a growing issue for campaigners as companies now devote more than half their marketing spend to new media rather than traditional advertising.

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