Perceived attitudes about substance use in anonymous social media posts near college campuses: Observational study

Alexis Hammond, Michael J. Paul, Joseph Hobelmann, Animesh R. Koratana, Mark Dredze, Margaret S Chisolm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Substance use is a major issue for adolescents and young adults, particularly college students. With the importance of peer influence and the ubiquitous use of social media among these age groups, it is important to assess what is discussed on various social media sites regarding substance use. One particular mobile app (Yik Yak) allowed users to post any message anonymously to nearby persons, often in areas with close proximity to major colleges and universities. Objective: This study describes the content, including attitude toward substances, of social media discussions that occurred near college campuses and involved substances. Methods: A total of 493 posts about drugs and alcohol on Yik Yak were reviewed and coded for their content, as well as the poster's attitude toward the substance(s) mentioned. Results: Alcohol (226/493, 45.8%), marijuana (206/493, 41.8%), and tobacco (67/493, 13%) were the most frequently mentioned substances. Posts about use (442/493) were generally positive toward the substance mentioned (262/442, 59.3%), unless the post was about abstinence from the substance. Additionally, posts that commented on the substance use of others tended to be less positive (18/92, 19.6% positive) compared to posts about one's own use (132/202, 65.3% positive). Conclusions: This study provides a description of anonymous discussions on or near college campuses about drugs and alcohol, which serves as an example of data that can be examined from social media sites for further research and prevention campaigns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere52
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2018



  • Alcohol
  • College
  • Drugs
  • Social media
  • Substance
  • Yik Yak

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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