WASHINGTON - The White House is distributing government-produced, anti-drug videos on YouTube, the trendy Internet service that 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 Tuesday, 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.
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.
President Bush's 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 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.
"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."
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.