Of today’s most popular social media platforms, Instagram is growing the fastest. In December 2016, Instagram reached its 600-millionth user, growing by 100 million users in just six months.
Of those 600 million users, roughly 55 percent are between the ages of 18 and 29.
With so many young users on Instagram, we wanted to know what they are exposed to when they follow celebrity Instagram accounts. While we covered these posts previously, the Instagram landscape has changed, with different influencers rising to the top and more youth exposed to their posts.
Research has found that marijuana and alcohol are the most commonly used substances among teenagers, so we studied the most popular Instagram profiles to see how Instagram celebrities may be influencing these choices. The results reveal that alcohol and drug use is all-too-commonly glamorized on celebrity accounts and teenagers may be negatively impacted and influenced by the constant exposure to these behaviors each time they log in to their social media account.
Social Media “Darlings”
Instagram allows users to follow friends and family; however, users can also follow famous personalities and celebrities. In fact, based on how frequently a celebrity posts, you might end up seeing more photos from celebrities than from people you know in real life.
As of January 2017, Snoop Dogg had the most active Instagram account with over 27,000 posts. Since Instagram is just over six years old, that means Snoop Dogg posts more than 12 photos every day on average. Other popular celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Wesley Safadão, and Kylie Jenner have each posted 5,000 or more times since Instagram launched in 2010. More than just watching their updates, users can engage with celebrities by liking and commenting on their posts. Of the celebrities with the most updates, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian West, and Nicki Minaj have the highest engagement scores.
Research has found a connection between teenagers’ body perceptions (particularly young girls) and the influence of celebrities. It’s evident from studies like these that teenagers look up to these public figures and wish to replicate their appearances — including the posturing and behaviors they depict on their social media profiles. The activities celebrities depict on their public Instagram accounts, including drug and alcohol use, may have a significant effect on young viewers.
Posted Substances, by the Numbers
So just what behaviors are celebrities depicting on Instagram? We decided to explore drug and alcohol mentions among the top 100 most influential Instagram celebrities to see how often young people are exposed to such behaviors.
Snoop Dogg, who had more posts than any other celebrity account, is notorious for his use of marijuana and alcohol. His glamorization of marijuana and alcohol is visible in more than 1 out of every 10 of his Instagram posts on average. Of Snoop Dogg’s over 27,000 pictures posted to Instagram, 9 percent included marijuana and 3 percent included alcohol – that amounts to over 3,300 posts.
Drake, who has over 32 million followers and rose to fame on the Nickelodeon teenage drama show “Degrassi,” has over 3,400 posts – 8 percent of which contain alcohol and 2 percent of which contain marijuana.
Similarly, model Emily Ratajkowski (with 11 million Instagram followers) and One Direction band member Louis Tomlinson (12 million) each featured alcohol in 8 percent to 9 percent of all their posts. Considering that almost 23 percent of Instagram’s 600 million users are between the ages of 18 and 24, many Instagram users who are following these celebrities may not even be of the legal age to consume alcohol.
Substances on Instagram, by Industry
Our analysis of top celebrity accounts featuring alcohol or marijuana revealed a strong trend of musicians such as Snoop Dogg and Drake posting frequently about drug and alcohol use, so we looked into this further to see which celebrities from each profession posted about drugs or alcohol the most frequently.
Notably, we found that three members of the famous Kardashian clan ranked the highest among television personalities for drug and alcohol mentions. Of Kourtney Kardashian’s last 100 posts, 6 percent contained alcohol. Similarly, 5 percent of Kim Kardashian West’s posts featured the same, and 2 percent of Khloe Kardashian’s photos included alcohol. While the Kardashians have many projects that appeal to multiple demographics, they also have business efforts aimed at teenagers and young adults.
Kim Kardashian West recently developed an app which is rated for ages 12 and older. The game allows players to join Kim on the red carpet by creating a celebrity character who can dress up and travel the world. She and husband Kanye West also recently confirmed that they are going to be creating a line of children’s clothing. With tremendous social media influence, and efforts aimed specifically at a younger demographic, there’s no question that young adults and teenagers are tuned in to the Kardashian’s Instagram content.
The athletes with the most posts featuring alcohol or drugs still maintained low ratios of drug-related content. Drugs are perhaps no more stigmatized anywhere among celebrities than they are in sports, and athletes can be severely penalized for the consumption of marijuana by major professional leagues. However, 4 percent of Leo Messi’s Instagram posts pictured or mentioned alcohol. Messi, who has over 62 million followers, averages over 1.1 million likes on each of his photos.
When it comes to gauging impact on Instagram, most brands and influencers rate their success by an engagement score (essentially “likes” and comments that denote an image is worth pausing and interacting with rather than just scrolling past).
When it comes to celebrity profiles, Lionel “Leo” Messi – a professional soccer player in Barcelona and Argentina – is among the most engaged with Instagram users. With over 62 million followers, Messi averages over 1.1 million likes on each of his posts. Messi’s exposure, including that achieved through his Instagram channel, is so valuable that he ranks as having one of the top five largest athlete endorsement deals in history.
Cristiano Ronaldo, another professional soccer player for Real Madrid and the Portugal National team, has over 86 million Instagram followers and more than 1.1 million likes on each of his photos. Like Messi, Ronaldo’s marketability has earned him the fourth-largest athletic endorsement of all time.
Other famous celebrities like Selena Gomez (106 million followers), Taylor Swift (96 million), and Louis Tomlinson (12 million) average over 1 million likes for each of their posts, signifying the enormous magnitude of their exposure and influence over the millions of teenagers who follow their accounts.
Alcohol Use Reigns on Instagram
Out of the 100 most recent photos posted by the top 100 celebrity accounts on Instagram, we found that 77 percent contained some depiction of marijuana or alcohol.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the U.S., with over 22 million active users. While many view it as a recreational drug with few negative side effects, research has confirmed addictive properties that can negatively impact academic performance in teenagers. Marijuana users are also three times more likely to develop an addiction to deadlier substances like heroin.
Signs that casual consumption has possibly evolved into a use disorder include: continuing use after experiencing negative side effects; developing a tolerance that requires higher quantities of marijuana to achieve the desired high; and experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon stopping use or reducing the quantity consumed. Serious withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, irritability, and difficulty sleeping, among others.
The impact of the volume of these posts – particularly those that glorify recreational drug use – can have a tremendous effect on the teenagers who follow them. A study of the trends of those on Instagram between the ages of 13 and 24 found that 39 percent looked at their Instagram accounts directly before going to sleep, and 33 percent looked at them immediately after waking up.
Posting Under the Influence
To round out our analysis of celebrities on Instagram, we looked at which professions as a whole posted the most about marijuana or alcohol. Models were the most likely to have at least one post on Instagram featuring marijuana or alcohol.
While over 60 percent of athletes never post photos on Instagram containing marijuana or alcohol, almost 40 percent have posted at least once. LeBron James for example, treats his over 28 million followers to an occasional photo featuring alcohol nested between highlight videos of his on-court performances.
Less than 30 percent of all actors, actresses, TV personalities, and musicians have accounts featuring a photo with alcohol or marijuana. 50 Cent, a famous rapper, is not only posting images with alcohol but is also using the social media network to promote specific brands.
There’s no denying that social media has an impact on the minds of teenagers who post and scroll through the photos they see online of friends, family, and celebrities. In fact, regardless of the content, teenagers have been found to “like” photos regardless of the image when they perceive them as popular. For celebrity accounts with millions of followers, and hundreds of thousands of likes per post, photos of alcohol and marijuana can leave a lasting impression on the many teenagers and young adults who follow them online.
At ProjectKnow.com, we’re committed to helping parents and teens understand drug and alcohol misuse and addiction. More than 8 million young adults admit to consuming alcohol — more than ever, it’s important for teens to model their behaviors after positive role models. Don’t wait to have the conversation with your child and discuss the dangers of alcohol and drug misuse.
We collected all existing Instagram posts from the top 100 most followed Instagram accounts (according to Iconosquare.com) as of Jan. 4, 2017. Brand accounts were omitted from results. Celebrities were categorized according to Iconosquare.com.
Of all existing posts, we analyzed the 100 most recent posts for the presence of marijuana or alcohol as of Jan. 4, 2017. Emma Watson was the only account with less than 100 photos available. Barack Obama was omitted from category results as a public figure with one photo depicting alcohol. The presence of drugs or alcohol in photos was determined through Amazon MTurk photo categorization. There were no results for any substances other than marijuana or alcohol.