The Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 469–481 | Cite as

Psychosocial Determinants of Teens’ Online Engagement in Drug Prevention Social Media Campaigns: Implications for Public Health Organizations

  • Hailee K. Dunn
  • Deborah N. Pearlman
  • Avery Beatty
  • Paul Florin
Original Paper


Social networking sites (SNSs) now serve as a primary form of communication among adolescents. Consequently, drug prevention campaigns delivered through SNSs have the potential to reach a wide network of adolescents if teens are willing to engage in the message diffusion process by commenting on, “liking,” following, creating, or sharing prevention messages with their networked peers. However, little is known about the psychosocial factors that influence adolescents’ willingness to participate in drug prevention social media campaigns. We use qualitative methods to explore reasons why adolescents may or may not want to engage in the message diffusion process. We conducted four semi-structured focus groups with a total of 33 high school students from various school- and community-based youth programs in Rhode Island. Focus groups were followed by a brief self-administered questionnaire collecting information about participants’ social media use to augment qualitative findings. Overall, findings reveal that engaging teens in the message diffusion process can be advantageous but difficult to accomplish due to multiple factors. Most notably, asking adolescents to participate in drug prevention campaigns delivered through SNSs means also asking youth to violate online norms that promote drug use, which could in turn subject them to peer reprisal. We conclude that future studies should begin to investigate strategies addressing the various challenges we identified. Meanwhile, prevention specialists should consider alternative or supplemental evidence-based approaches to drug prevention rather than invest resources into activities that may offer little return on investment.


Substance prevention Social networking sites Social media Focus groups Adolescence 



The authors thank the communities and research participants who made this project possible. The authors also express their sincerest gratitude to James Day, BS of James Day Consulting for his dedication and insightful feedback throughout the course of this research. Preliminary findings were presented as a poster, #Saywhat? Exploring ways to enhance teen involvement in substance prevention social media campaigns, at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association in Denver, CO.


This work was supported in part by funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s Strategic Prevention Framework—Partnerships for Success (SPF-PFS) Grant program (SP020159). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAMHSA, CSAP.

Compliance With Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hailee K. Dunn
    • 1
  • Deborah N. Pearlman
    • 2
  • Avery Beatty
    • 1
  • Paul Florin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCollege of Health Sciences, University of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of EpidemiologySchool of Public Health, Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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