Workshop: Social Media, Mobile Technology and Youth Risk Behaviors

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NIDA, 6001 Executive Blvd, Rockville, MD 20852


Moira O'Brien

United States

Meeting Summary

The purpose of this workshop, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research, was to bring together experts across diverse disciplines from academic research and industry to discuss key questions related to social media use and risky behaviors among youth to help guide NIDA’s research priorities in this area: 

  • What is known about social media and mobile technology use among adolescents and young adults?
  • What are the underlying mechanisms by which social media use may influence risk behaviors?
  • How can we harness social media to improve outcomes among youth? 

Group discussions focused on research needs and opportunities, methodological challenges, models for collaboration and data resources.

Summary of Key Themes:

Advancing the Field--Scientific Needs:

  • Developmental Effects of Social Media: Social media appears to influence youth development on multiple levels. Youth both create and consume content on social media platforms, thus it is important to consider bidirectional effects. Key questions/opportunities include:
    • Understand effects of social media on the brain: Explore opportunities to measure the influence of social media on behavior and well-being in real time in a laboratory setting.
    • Build on existing longitudinal studies, including the ABCD study: Existing longitudinal studies offer the opportunity to examine bidirectional effects in large samples. ABCD has a great deal of existing and planned infrastructure that could support such studies.
    • Key outcomes: Characterize the relationship between social media use and key neurobiological, behavioral, and social skill outcomes of interest.
    • Intensive measurement: Social media has several temporal properties that suggest interesting hypotheses to explore with intensive longitudinal measures that capture the relationship between social media use and daily patterns of “real life” interactions and substance use-relevant outcomes.
  • Social Media Ecosystem: Current studies largely focus on a single platform at a time. However, given (a) the pace at which social media platforms change and (b) that youth use different social media platforms for different purposes, it is critical to move toward a social affordances approach (i.e., what social media offers adolescents) to better understand what social media can tell us to either advance our ability to use it as a surveillance tool or as a platform for intervention.
  • Dynamic Social Network Models: Incorporate social networks in human laboratory studies to understand vulnerability and resilience contributions to substance misuse and addiction liability.
  • Social Media as a Platform for Intervention or Useful Indicator of Risk for Relapse: Explore the potential for delivering just-in-time interventions that are responsive to real-time social-media based indicators of distress. Explore the degree to which such interventions can be integrated into existing clinical relationships or delivered via online platforms, including social media.
  • Community-Level Insights: Explore the potential of social media to reveal variation in substance use behaviors, including disparities, using geolocation and spatial analysis tools.

Advancing the Field--Infrastructure Needs:

  • Training: Both established and junior researchers need training to gain relevant skills and expertise.
  • Addressing Fundamental Technical Challenges in Social Media Data: Advance methods for the integration of text and images in analyses.
  • Data Sharing/Tools: Increased data sharing and open-access tools are crucial to advancing the field. Even so, there are important limitations/constraints related to data ownership, consent, and privacy issues. 
  • Methodological Consensus: To advance, the field needs to develop consensus around methods and reporting standards to increase reproducibility and transparency.
  • Industry Collaborations: Explore opportunities for collaboration with the technology industry and the potential for data sharing. Researchers should consider how to incentivize industry’s participation in research collaborations.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: A diverse set of multidisciplinary experts must collaborate to advance this science. Key disciplines include developmental science, neuroscience, data science, and addiction.