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Friends with Smartphones

Citizen Science Study

Background

Social media influencers (SMI) are key sources of health advice for young people, but little is known about their nature and the content they share. Using a citizen science approach, Austrian adolescents collected data to reveal who the most prominent health influencers are and what content they share.

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Method

Nineteen school classes, comprising 326 adolescents aged 12 to 19, participated in a citizen science project. The students collected data on social media influencers and their health-related posts, coding various aspects such as the number of followers, the health topics, ad disclosure, and likes.

Results of the Study

The participants collected 255 influencers and 2147 posts from three different social media platforms. The posts cover various health topics, with the three most identified categories being sport & fitness, beauty ideals, and food & nutrition.

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The citizen scientists categorized the majority of the posts (60.4%) as health-promoting, while 4.4% were deemed potentially harmful. Notably, the harmful posts were predominantly associated with content related to beauty ideals (59.8%), followed by content related to food and nutrition (27.6%).

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In total, 41.5% of the posts featured advertisements, primarily in the form of text (29.9%) and logos (19.9%). The most frequently promoted product categories included food and nutrition (15.8%), followed by beauty and lifestyle (12.9%), food supplements (11.2%), and sports equipment (10.8%). It's worth noting that only 22 posts (1.02%) contained undisclosed advertisements.

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