Drinks firms 'target young online'
Children and young people are being targeted by alcohol companies via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, according to a new report.
The study for the charity Alcohol Concern found social media and own-brand websites were an area of huge interest to the alcohol industry.
Even "safeguards" designed to ensure pages can only be accessed by people aged 18 and over are easily bypassed by putting in fake dates of birth, researchers said. One doctor was able to input a date on the WKD website that did not exist - February 29 on a year that was not a leap year - to gain easy access.
The study examined all kinds of online marketing by the alcohol industry, including branded websites with interactive games and competitions that are attractive to young people, and branded pages on websites including Facebook and YouTube.
It said websites set up by consumers themselves to back a particular brand are also very popular, while companies encourage viral marketing - a form of advertising targeted at those who are likely to pass on the message to others via social networking sites, emails, texts and online forums.
The report said: "The boundaries between what actually constitutes online alcohol advertising and what constitutes social interaction are, in addition, becoming increasingly hazy."
While companies are advised to take "reasonable steps to prevent their brand names, trademarks and logos from being used by third parties in a manner which violates agreed guidelines", it is "questionable to what extent this happens in practice".
Social networking sites have furthermore become a place for young people to share photos of themselves or their friends in a drunken state.
The report, New Media, New Problem?, said 49% of children aged eight to 17 in the UK have set up their own profile on a social networking site. Despite the fact that the minimum age for most of these sites is 13, 27% of 8 to 11-year-olds who are aware of the sites have a user profile.
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "The alcohol industry has very effectively taken advantage of internet technology as a means of promoting its products. There's a real danger of children and young people being exposed to alcohol marketing on such sites, particularly given that age verification mechanisms are largely ineffective."