Key findings from our citizen science project with young people on unhealthy marketing on social media

Today the key findings from our study with VicHealth on young people’s experiences of unhealthy marketing on social media were released.

Media release: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/media-releases/dark-marketing-tactics-of-harmful-industries-exposed-by-young-citizen-scientists

Short web report: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/citizen-voices-against-harmful-marketing

In this study we worked with 204 young Victorians to collect 5,169 screenshots of alcohol, gambling and unhealthy food/drinks ads they saw on social media over a couple of weeks.

We surveyed them and chatted about what they thought of the ads, how they thought the ads were targeted, the impact of the ads, and what (if anything) they thought should be ‘done’ about this kind of marketing material on social media.

Some headline findings:

1. They saw a lot of ads, more than they expected (collecting them drew their attention to the volume)

2. 81% of our participants felt there should be more regulation here, especially related to gambling ads. One of our “citizen scientists” said “Gambling ads should be banned, they’re an absolute net negative for society and my wallet.” (Ash, 21)

3. 97% of the ads sent to us were “dark”: only visible to those targeted by the advertisers, fleeting, and not published on advertiser accounts where they can be viewed. This raises big questions around scrutiny and accountability.

There are a bunch of other more detailed, nuanced, and fascinating findings from the project we’ll (slowly!) publish, but key messages are in the short web report: https://vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/citizen-voices-against-harmful-marketing

The scale and timeline of this project (conducted early 2021) meant it took a village to pull off. Big ups to our team: my co-captain/main brains trust Nic Carah, along with the fantastic Chiara DeLazzari, Lillian Rangiah, Marai-Gemma Brown, Karla Elliott, Amy Dobson, Claire Tanner, Steve Roberts, and Michael Savic.

Finally – if, like me, you are a methods nerd and interested to hear more on how we did what we did, Nic, Sean (from VicHealth) and I spoke to the Citizen Science in Prevention Community of Practice last year to talk research design. Video recording below. Thanks for having us Yvonne!