- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The White House is distributing government-produced, anti-drug videos on YouTube, the trendy Internet service that already features clips of wacky, drug-induced behavior and step-by-step instructions for growing marijuana plants.

The decision to distribute public service announcements and other videos over YouTube represents the first concerted effort by the U.S. government to influence customers of the popular service, which shows more than 100 million videos per day.

The administration said it was not paying any money to load its previously produced videos onto YouTube’s service, so the program is effectively free. Already by yesterday, when the White House formally announced its video efforts, thousands of YouTube users had watched some of the government’s videos.

“If just one teen sees this and decides illegal drug use is not the path for them, it will be a success,” said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

By contrast, a two-minute video of a burning marijuana cigarette produced by High Times magazine has been viewed more than 17,000 times since March. “You have a lot of illicit, if not illegal, world views and cultures represented on the Web,” said Rick Cusick, the magazine’s associate publisher.

The government’s YouTube videos include a previously televised, 30-second ad of a teenager running from a snarling dog and bemoaning pressure from his friends to smoke marijuana.

“Then today, they said I should try to outrun Tic Tic, the lumberyard dog,” the teen says. “And I don’t think I can. I’m an idiot.”

President Bush’s top drug-policy adviser, John Walters, said the agency was using emerging technologies to try to reach its audience. “Public institutions must adapt to meet the realities of these promising technologies,” he said.

YouTube, a San Mateo, Calif.-based start-up, has become one of the Internet’s hottest properties since two 20-something friends started the company 19 months ago. The free service allows users to share and view videos, most of which are amateurishly produced and include clips of young people singing and dancing — usually poorly.

The government’s short public service announcements — all of which were produced previously for television — are highly polished. They will compete for viewership against hundreds of existing, drug-related videos that include shaky footage of college-age youths smoking marijuana and girls dancing wildly after purportedly using cocaine. Other YouTube videos describe how to grow marijuana and how to cook with it.

“Welcome to the great experiment,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. He predicted computer-savvy critics of U.S. drug policies will quickly edit the government’s videos to produce parodies and distribute those on YouTube. “This seems pretty new and pretty adventurous.”

The government linked its videos with the terms “war on drugs,” “peer pressure,” “marijuana,” “weed,” “ONDCP” and “420,” so anyone searching for those words on YouTube could find its anti-drug messages.

All the videos were associated with a YouTube account named “ONDCPstaff” and identified as an 18-year-old living in Washington. The figure 420 is a popular reference for marijuana.

Michael Bugeja, who studies how different groups use the Internet, said the White House plan is misdirected because online video services don’t afford serious consideration to weighty topics.

“It’s the wrong forum and the wrong target,” said Mr. Bugeja, an author and director of the journalism school at Iowa State University.

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