Resources help young people examine harmful digital marketing

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation has partnered with VicHealth and expert advisors to create engaging new online educational resources for high school students through its innovative eSmart Media Literacy Lab.

These learning modules focus on effective strategies for managing exposure to harmful digital marketing practices. This concerns advertising that promotes alcohol, unhealthy foods, sugary drinks and gambling.

Companies are constantly using new approaches to digital marketing, which can make it very difficult for young people to know when something is really disguised advertising.

New media literacy resources empower high school students to take a critical and conscious look at harmful digital marketing that aims to normalize harmful products and incentivize them into potentially harmful consumption.

Foundation CEO Sarah Davies AM said students will learn about sponsorship as a digital marketing tool and understand how companies use association and identity to encourage consumption of their product.

“The marketing of harmful products is pervasive in Australian society, with children and young people being exposed to a wide range of pervasive and often covert online marketing practices,” Ms Davies said.

“This secret marketing is also seen as a child rights issue. Our partner, UNICEF, for example, advocates for governments to adopt a child rights-based approach to digital marketing to ensure that the best interests of the child are always the primary consideration.

“Through three new VicHealth modules in the eSmart Media Literacy Lab, they will also understand the risks involved when our children are repeatedly exposed to harmful products,” Ms Davies said.

Launched in 2020, the eSmart Media Literacy Lab is a one-of-a-kind resource for students aged 12-16 that equips them with the critical thinking skills they need to navigate media and online environments effectively.

Schools across Australia are encouraged to sign up, with funding in Victoria ensuring all schools have free access for 12 months.

VicHealth modules focus on general media literacy and health promotion, with personalized learning content and questions specific to each harmful industry – alcohol, unhealthy foods and gambling. These will provide engaging new learning content taught in a ‘story world’ narrative environment, with fictional and real-life examples.

They include content on the marketing of harmful products, children’s rights and data privacy, age verification, exposure and consumption information, and types and techniques of digital marketing.

VicHealth’s Head of Business Determinants of Health, Emma Saleeba, agreed that children should be able to participate in the digital world without being exposed to harmful marketing products.

“As young people explore, learn and connect online, harmful industries are there with them. Market their products whenever and wherever they want,” Saleeba said.

“Alcohol, junk food and gambling companies are constantly using innovative digital marketing approaches, which can make it difficult for children and adults to tell when something is disguised advertising.

“We can empower our children to identify and understand these harmful tactics, but it cannot happen alone. Government policy must lead the way in ensuring that the digital environment protects children.

Recent research has shed light on the persistent problems presented by harmful digital marketing practices.

A 2021 study from the University of Wollongong found that teenagers are bombarded with junk food marketing on social media.

For one week, the children were exposed to an average of 168 online food and drink promotions, the researchers found. Young Australians aged 10-16 who watch food-branded video content on YouTube and see food brands advertised online have been shown to have significantly higher consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages.

Ms Davies said that from an early age, children see the marketing of harmful products in digital spaces, both in obvious and subtle ways.

“The consequences of digital marketing on alcohol, unhealthy food and gambling could be lifelong and impact the health and well-being of children for years to come.”

Background information:

* The Alannah & Madeline Foundation has worked for over 10 years to develop essential digital skills for children and young people in schools nationwide. We do this by helping children and young people reduce their risk of exposure to harm online and empowering them to navigate the digital world safely and successfully.

Its eSmart programs are aligned with the national curriculum and empower students, teachers and parents to create safe and supportive school communities where all students have the freedom to thrive. *

VicHealth’s Citizen Science Report sheds light on young people who feel bombarded by the marketing of harmful products on social media.

/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author or authors. See in full here.

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