Researchers Use Instagram To Analyze Teenage Drinking Habits

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Teenagers are known for doing a lot of dumb things: planking, salt and ice challenges, taking a selfie with a squirrel and then getting attacked by that squirrel. Perhaps dumbest of all: breaking the law through underage drinking and posting about it on social media. Now, a team of smart researchers at the University of Rochester is harnessing that stupidity for everyone’s benefit by digging through Instagram data to better understand teenage drinking habits.

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Though teens might not be honest when questioned about their drinking in surveys — the traditional way of collecting data — the study’s lead author Jiebo Luo says underage drinkers “are willing to share their alcohol consumption experience” on social media, which could make his team’s new method the more reliable option for collecting accurate information on the subject. Gathering that data isn’t a piece of cake, though. Since Instagram doesn’t offer a way of selecting users by age, Luo and his team had to apply computer vision techniques instead, analyzing faces to get sufficiently accurate guesses for things like age, gender, and race, according to the University of Rochester’s Newscenter.So what did they find? One result was that underage drinking is similar to adult drinking in that it happens mostly on weekends, holidays, and at the end of the day. They also found that teenagers tend to gravitate towards some brands more than others, which also varies per gender, findings they say could be utilized to combat underage drinking. On the other hand, irresponsible brands could use this same data to target the illegal demographic instead … nah, never mind, alcohol companies would never do something like that.

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