(Il)legal drugs and social media

Research Period

1 October 2016 – 30 September 2017


Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)



Key Words

Drug policy, social media, Twitter, cannabis, prescription drugs


Context and goals

Traditional mass media have been considered as an important player setting the drug-policy agenda and constructing drug narratives often fuelling ‘moral panics’ (framing). While the popularity of social media (e.g. social networking sites, discussion forums, blogs, micro-blogging services) has exploded over the past years, there has been little inquiry into how these issues of ‘framing’ and ‘agenda setting’ apply under these new circumstances. The main objective of this study is to examine how and by whom (il)licit drugs are framed in social media and how social media may inform and galvanise policymakers to pay attention to this particular issue (agenda setting).



For the two research axes the following methodological approach applies: a qualitative research design, including:

1. A qualitative discourse analysis in order to investigate Twitter on data (i.e. tweets and retweets, photos, videos, hashtags, URLs, etc.) that aligned with issues of cannabis and prescription drugs.

2. In-depth interviews with Belgian drug policy-makers in order to understand the perceptions of policymakers as to the nature of and the extent to which social media may inform the policy agenda.



  • TIEBERGHIEN, J. & PUSCHMANN, C. (2017). cannabis. A qualitative study of the framing of cannabis on Twitter. Paper presented at the 4th Contemporary Drug
    Problems conference, Helsinki (Finland), 23-25 August 2017.
  • TIEBERGHIEN, J. (2017). Change or Continuity in Drug Policy. The roles of Science, Media and Interest Groups. New York: Routledge.
  • PARDAL, M. & TIEBERGHIEN, J. (2017). An analysis of media framing of and by Cannabis Social Clubs in Belgium: making the news? Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy (accepted),
  • TIEBERGHIEN, J. & MONAGHAN, M. (2017). Public Scholarship and the Evidence Movement: Understanding and Learning from Belgian Drug Policy Development. European Journal of Criminology (accepted).
  • TIEBERGHIEN, J. (2017). (Il)legal drugs and social media: rethinking theories of framing and agenda-setting? E-poster presented at the conference organised by the workgroup on Critical Approaches towards Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs (CAATOD), Vienna (Austria), 22-24 February 2017.
  • TIEBERGHIEN, J. (2017). Interviewing political 'elites': methodological challenges and opportunities in 'studying up'. Paper presented as part of the 'Symposium on interviewing 'elites' in social sciences' at the 1st European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, Leuven (Belgium), 7-9 February 2017.
  • TIEBERGHIEN, J. (2016). Politieke elite aan het woord: diepte-interviews met parlementsleden en ministers. In Decorte & Zaitch (eds.) (2016). Kwaliatieve methoden en technieken in de criminologie. Leuven: Acco.
  • PARDAL, M. & TIEBERGHIEN, J. (2016). A decade of Cannabis Social Clubs in Belgium: hitting the headlines? Paper presented at the 27th annual conference of the European Society for Social Drug research, Frankfurt (Germany), 22-24 September 2016.