YouTube videos for a new public health campaign are going viral: the Boston Public Health Commission hopes its messages on sexual safety, disseminated through new internet media, will spread as markedly among city youth as sexually transmitted diseases have. As highlighted in the Boston Globe
, this campaign
understands that adolescents today are deeply entrenched in media sources that constantly bombard them with messages about how to live; rather than fighting against media exposure, Boston is responding with a positive message sent through the same channels.
The media is a ubiquitous presence in our lives, from radio to TV to the internet. American teens are particularly influenced by their access to the web, which offers chances both to absorb information from outside sources (“Web 1.0”) and to actively contribute to the internet’s offerings through social networking sites, videos, blogs, or message boards and forums (“Web 2.0”). By capitalizing on these many options that play such a large role in adolescent life, social campaigns such as the STI Prevention Drive in Boston can connect with teens on their own terms.
With internet available in schools, homes, and even on cell phones, preventing teens from viewing objectionable content is virtually impossible. Some have worried that teens’ web use will lead to more dangerous sexual behavior, including becoming sexually active at a younger age and being less cautious about disease and pregnancy prevention – issues that are explored in another FOC article, “Media and Risky Behaviors
.” While such concerns are not unfounded, the designers of Web 2.0 media campaigns recognize that rather than prohibiting internet access, it is far more successful to fight fire with fire – using the same media that promote unhealthy behaviors to promote healthy ones.
While parental guidance and school programs can play a role in discouraging unhealthy behaviors, Web 2.0 media campaigns acknowledge the reality that adolescents are heavily influenced by their peers. The new Boston campaign uses YouTube videos generated by and starring teens, and it also recruits teens to spread the message through other forums, such as street theater and visual advertisements. By having the teens design the content, the messages are more accessible than if they were created and imposed on teens by adults.
Web 2.0 campaigns also offer social organizations increased potential for spreading their messages. For example, the Boston Public Health Commission will field anonymous Facebook questions to experts, allowing teens to ask and get information without embarrassment or social stigma. The internet allows for viral messaging as well – videos can be passed around through blogs, Twitter, emails, or even news coverage, greatly increasing their reach. Marketers know that casual but frequent exposure to a message makes consumers more likely to buy their products; Web 2.0 campaigns use the same methods to promote healthy lifestyle choices among teens.