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U.S. uploads anti-drug videos to YouTube
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is taking its fight against illegal drugs to YouTube, the trendy Internet video service that already features clips of wacky, drug-induced behavior and step-by-step instructions for growing marijuana plants.
The decision to distribute anti-drug, 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 was expected to announce the decision formally on Tuesday. It said it was not paying any money to load its previously produced videos onto YouTube's service, so the program is effectively free.
"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 drug office.
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 out run Tic Tic, the lumber-yard dog," the teen says. "And I don't think I can. I'm an idiot."
YouTube, a San Mateo, Calif.-based startup, 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 badly.
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 kids 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 term 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 Bugeja, an author and director of the journalism school at Iowa State University.