Photo elicitation

Photo elicitation

Beginning in October 2014, our team at the Center for Critical Public Health set out to investigate how gender overlaps with ideas around alcohol use. Using an interview-based approach, we’ve now interviewed roughly one hundred and sixty 18-25 year-olds living in the Bay Area. As part of our interview schedule, we created a photo elicitation activity, where participants are asked questions based on photographs presented by the interviewer. For the next few months we piloted different types of images, ranging from advertisements to candid images found on open source image sites. We’ve used multiple photos since the start of the project; some were dropped along the way, and a few have been altered to examine specific ideas of interest. The photo elicitation activity has proven to be a helpful strategy for discussing gendered issues with participants who are reluctant to talk about gender differences during the normal question-answer sections of our schedule.

Two items of particular interest were pivotal in designing our photo elicitation activity:

1) Participants gave particularly interesting responses to a Facebook-embedded photo we were using, and

2) Participants were generating a significant amount of discussion around their own social media use.

Since social media seemed both interesting and relevant to so many of our participants, we decided to embed some of our photographs into different social media platforms, creating both an Instagram and Snapchat photos. As the project continued, our discussions regarding participants’ social media use were unique enough that we expanded the interview schedule to include specific social media questions in the open-ended portion as well. The following is a summary of findings that have emerged thus far, keeping in mind that interviews are ongoing and that deep analysis of the data has yet to commence.


Facebook Instagram Snapchat
(most risky) (least risky)


Overwhelmingly, the most popular way in which alcohol experiences are shared online is through visual media. Still-capture photos were identified as the primary means of posting, sharing, and otherwise exposing people in one’s social network to alcohol-based activities. While it was acknowledged that this happens across a variety of different platforms, Snapchat and Instagram were highlighted as the two most frequently used social media platforms for sharing alcohol-related experiences online. These standards relate to discourses connected to social risk, social acceptability, and internet culture. Notably, people’s comfort in sharing alcohol-based information varies based on their perceptions of risk, which seem to fall on a spectrum of Facebook (most risky) > Instagram > Snapchat (least risky).

This risk management seems to revolve around the user’s own self-monitoring, as they seek benefits from sharing ‘fun’ information with their social network, while keeping in mind the potential consequences that could emerge if that same network disapproves of that shared information. By posting acceptable information, participants have described these positives results in terms of social capital. Direct positives on many of these platforms include receiving friend requests and gaining followers, and real-life positives discussed were linked to a person’s increased popularity online. On the other hand, by posting material that is seen as taboo by the online community, users expect to receive negative feedback and possible scrutiny by friends and acquaintances alike. These standards seem to be determined by the online cultures that exist for each platform, and each of these were described as unique social environments. How each person describes their standards and protocol is unique, but below is a rundown of each photo we use and some of the themes that have emerged so far. Continue reading