By Libby Beach
Drinking happens on Denison’s campus. Binge drinking culture, although obviously not new to Denison, has taken a new form with the rise of social media and the iPhone. Where drinking culture could once be hidden on a hill, it is now capturable on video and ready to be immortalized in the form of a post on social media giants like “imshmacked” “Barstool Sports”, and “Total Frat Move”. “Imshmacked” posts multiple times daily about sex, drugs, and drinking to their 600,000 followers. They have also been cited by the media (here and here) for inducing riots at the University of Delaware, promoting sexist attitudes toward women, advertising dangerous party culture, and glamorizing binge drinking on college campuses. With their Instagram followers, millions of YouTube views, and a continued presence on campuses, it is worthwhile to question the real impact they are having on everyday students.
That being said, Denison could be different. Denison is one of the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the US and its rigorous academics probably damper the party scene, especially since Greek life was changed in the 1990s. Since Denison’s party culture is controlled and regulated by Campus Safety, unlike a school like the Ohio State University that has off-campus housing, it is possible that Denison students could have a detached view of themselves in relation to the social media content they are seeing. This all lead me to wonder, to what extent does social media that promotes party culture inform and promote attitudes about binge drinking at Denison?
As you might know, in February of 2018 a survey was sent out to the student body that asked questions about binge drinking. What you might not know is that some students received a version of the survey that was “sponsored” by “imshmacked” and some did not (see the example below). With these two versions, we created an experiment that allowed us to test the impact of social media like “imshmacked” on the amount of self-reported binge drinking, definitions of binge drinking, and perceptions of its extent on campus. The idea was that this partnership might motivate some students to report higher levels of personal behavior, tolerance, and views of party culture, reflecting a “social desirability bias.”
I focused on one key behavior: self-reported binge drinking in the past week, which 28 percent of the sample reported doing. If any part of the campus is susceptible to references to party culture, I thought it would be Greeks. According to Figure 1, this is true; besides Greek-affiliated Denisonians drinking more to begin with (48% report binge drinking in the past week), they also show an increase in self-reported binging when primed with “imshmacked” (up to 55%). Non-greeks report low levels of binge drinking (17%) and little to no response to the “imshmacked” prime.
Figure 1 – The Greek-affiliated Respond More to “imshmacked”
It turns out that a gendered analysis tells a slightly different story: female Greeks were significantly more responsive to the prime – their reported binge drinking jump by 10 percent when primed. A possible explanation for this unexpected result is that women pay more attention to social media and are therefore more affected by social pressure represented by “imshmacked”. “Imshmacked” is an appearingly misogynistic site that perpetuates heteronormative norms and the over-sexualization of women, but it is not immediately clear exactly how that fits into binge drinking. It could be that Denison’s Greek women see these portrayals on social media and are envious of or wishful of replicating that image. As an affiliated person at Denison, I think this is possible; for many women, there is something attractive about appealing to and engaging in a system, like party culture, that makes you the “star”, even if it that popularity does not come from a healthy or respectful place.
Figure 2 – Male and Female Greeks React to the Prime Differently
As in the case of greek life, risk-taking (more on that here and here) can also be analyzed according to gender. Risk taking in one aspect of life could be an indicator that a student would take risks more generally. Overall, the most risk acceptant student reported twice as much binge drinking (~40 percent) compared to the most risk averse (~20 percent), which makes sense giving the risky nature of binge drinking.
While there is little impact of risk aversion for priming among male respondents, risk-aversion completely changed the way that female respondents reacted to the prime. Self-described risk averse females saw the prime and reported less binge drinking. This suggests that they had a negative reaction to the image of “imshmacked” – they saw the logo and rather than embrace drinking culture, they shirked away from it and reported lower rates. Risk takers had the opposite reaction and reported much higher rates of binge drinking. We like to imagine that men are the ones being most affected by “imshmacked” given the presumably heterosexual male-oriented content of the account (lots of sexualized photos of women talking about sexual behavior), but maybe they are not. Instead, maybe female students are most affected by “imshmacked” because they have internalized the message presented about what it is to be a “good” female within party culture – one who can drink along with the boys and who is down for a good time.
Figure 3 – Risk-taking Females Are Most Affected by the Prime
When we look at how “imshmacked” affects students, Greek life matters. More than any other variable, Greek affiliation has an effect on how people will react to the prime. Particularly, Greek women were more affected by the prime and this could be because women internalize differently the messages that “imshmacked” relays (or that they access social media more regularly). Although we cannot know conclusively why Greek women are more affected by the prime, one possibility is that Greek women are paying attention to the content of those platforms. So when “imshmacked” puts out objectifying and degrading content about women, they are seeing it. It is the right of the platform to post whatever they want, but it is helpful for us to keep in mind that this is the message that many women are getting about how they should react to college party culture.
So what is the takeaway? Students are affected by the messages they are receiving on social media, whether consciously or subconsciously. There are outside social pressures, especially for Greek-affiliated women, that complicate their relationship with binge drinking and contribute to a potentially drinking-heavy community. If you are a woman who is a risk-taker, you’re even more susceptible to the “imshmacked” and report significantly higher rates of binge drinking. This gap is significant because it shows us the way that “imshmacked” is targeted at specific groups and the impact it can have on the way that those women view their relationship with alcohol and party culture at Denison. Moving forward, as a Greek-affiliated woman, I can pass along this information to better educate my sisters and the larger Denison community about the messages that women are receiving about party culture, the risks they face, and the power of social media.
Libby Beach is a certified iced coffee addict who, like every other contributor, probably spends way too much time in Knapp.