Posted by: paulacunniffe | 09/06/2010


‘Justin Bieber smokes cigarettes, they couldn’t be bad for you??’ carlosslim42

I’ve often wondered how effective anti-smoking ads are. Do they make people quit? I’ve picked two graphic videos from anti-smoking campaigns to see others’ reactions.

I divided how people reacted into four basic categories. Some discussed the merits of smoking weed instead of cigarettes. Others shared personal experiences of smoking/not smoking. Some argued that the ad is fake. Finally, certain users made a mockery of the videos by saying things such as the Justin Bieber quote above, or ‘HAHA SMOKERS=DUMBASS’s!!!! I hope you all die!!!’ (TenaciousC58).

The above quote about Justin Bieber is from this video. The comments include some serious debate/opinions. However, reactions like the comment about smokers being dumbasses shows, as Hess argues, that Youtube is not ‘an effective medium for social change.’ Serious debate is lost among the expletive filled mockery that makes up a good deal of the comments.

The following quote is an example of a user making a valid argument, and using statistics instead of expletives. ‘Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease? That’s what they get from 25 years of heavy smoking. 80% of the lung capacity is lost…. So smoking is slowly choking oneself to death. What a way to go.’ (McLarenMercedes)

However, it’s hard to take this seriously when there are no citations to back it up and the user is called after a car manufacturer. Also, McLaren Mercedes’ previous comment says it’s unfortunate teenagers who smoke don’t die till they’re in their 40s. So obviously you doubt the credentials of the user.

The fact that the spelling and grammar is so bad, and the use of ‘web-speak’, also makes it hard for me to take anything seriously. If one Youtube user disagrees with another’s comments, they are more likely to call them a dumbass than respond with a logical argument. As Hess states, Youtube as a medium suffers from ‘a perceived lack of seriousness’.

The second video follows the same pattern as the first. Some users write things like ‘I want to tongue her’ (tybash) and ‘lmfAO ur gonna die bitch’ (Ihateblacksism). The comments on this video are a good example of how logical argument is lost among slagging matches. For example, TrickyNero disagrees with another user called Sparks who says smoking weed is bad for you. TrickyNero calls him a ‘mindless Youtube fucker’, instead of providing a reason for not agreeing with him. Sparks replies with: ‘You clearly are already fucked in your head so you don’t know shit.’ Nice.

I agree with Hess’ view that Youtube is not an ‘effective medium for social change’. I did not learn anything useful from the user’s comments, except that they get angry when someone doesn’t agree with them! Plus any ‘facts’ were not backed up with citations so I was slow to believe them.



  1. Both videos to me are pretty frightening. But again, how many smokers would quit smoking because of these ads? “Smoking is bad” has become a cliche and lost its impact on smokers over the years. And since it’s usually a chronic process for a smoker to really suffer from the diseases caused by smoking as one of the comments of the first video mentioned “25 years,” people are less afraid of the consequences. In this regard, i wonder if this has anything to do with the nature of Youtube or it is actually the human nature that is causing the campaign ineffective.

  2. First, ewwwww!

    Second, notice my use of the online vernacular.

    Third, I was left wondering how much of YouTube perpetuates its environment on other users who might want civil discourse.

    Let’s pretend I was one of those smokers who really only lights up so that I can get an extra 15-minute break in the afternoon. Then I see that fat come out of the artery, I puke, and I commit to quitting. Because I am familiar with the typical posters on YouTube, I might refrain from posting a comment about my inspirational story because I expect I will face ridicule. And so does everyone else who wants to talk about the science discussed in the videos. What if instead of being a forum for free speech, YouTube actually limits intellectual speech by making it uncool to talk about issues in an informed way?

  3. Paula:
    In reading your blog post about anti-smoking ads on YouTube, I found myself wondering if there would be different responses if it was a different topic such as something horrendously violent or heinous acts against children. I think the videos you picked, though they were attempting to be serious in content, only add further ammunition to the parodic nature of the videos that dominate YouTube. I think Megan has a valid point that it might not be “cool” for YouTubers to express their opinions in intellectual and valid ways. Or maybe YouTube has become so known for its “webspeak” that those with intelligent responses steer clear?

  4. I second the above ewwwwwwww!

    I always wonder the age of the people who comment on YouTube. The language is often so slang driven and filled with profanity it makes me question why they would choose to write like that. Are they using language like this because they are immature or very young? Or is this just the acceptable jargon? Do they use this type of language for all correspondence? This would be a great study.

  5. Interesting videos you’ve chosen! While I agree that a lot of the comments are disturbing and many seem to fit in with the kind that Hess ultimately dismisses as unproductive, I think that consideration of the importance of vernacular discourse might be something to think about here. You say that you find it hard to take comments with bad grammar and spelling seriously, and I don’t blame you – it is hard to do so. But I think that, even if we’re not seeing value in a lot of the content here specifically, it might be short-sighted to dismiss people on Youtube in general who communicate in such a way. I think it’s important to establish different parameters in which to frame online discussions, recognizing that a common feature of the internet, like it or not, involves pseudonyms and informal language and grammar, whether due to carelessness or ignorance. So maybe the most useful thing about these comments is not that they provide real deliberation but they give us an example of the vernacular which we have to become familiar with and adjust to in order to navigate other discussions that could be productive, or else we might miss out on something. (Though the comments you quote certainly are quite crude!)

  6. Comments on blog post 2:

  7. I think the age of the web user could have a big influence on establishing the internet term-using. The online culture is mostly dominant by the younger generation; they are more familiar with the new media and technologies. For example, my mother didn’t know how to use Skype and email before I come to United States; she learned how to use them because she missed me very much. What I want to say is: some older generations don’t use internet or Youtube as much as younger generation; therefore, I think it is possible that the deliberation on Youtube were made mostly by younger generation. The older generation’s voice might not be heard sometimes.

    • Our peer group does have a big influence on how we use technology. In Malaysia I had to text all the time, every day, because all my friends and colleagues there use SMS for everything. Here in the U.S., I almost never text b/c friends and colleagues HERE use e-mail and voice phone calls much more.

  8. I find your comment about the use of “web speak” to be an interesting one. I think our expectations determine how we view these comments. We expect thoughtful discussion to come with proper grammar and limited use of the word “dumbass”, no? But I wonder if engaging in the traditional YouTube vernacular, such as it is, might be a deliberate choice on the part of some commenters — an effort to have the conversation in the voice of the medium.

    (Not to say that I like seeing the horrendous grammar, but it has become part of the YouTube culture in some ways.)

  9. About this: “The fact that the spelling and grammar is so bad, and the use of ‘web-speak’, also makes it hard for me to take anything seriously.”

    I agree, and I have noticed a lot of comments on YouTube that attack other commenters for their terrible spelling and grammar. It makes me laugh every time I see a comment that says, “Why don’t you learn to spell?” (This is often followed by an attack on the content of the comment.)

    So even the illiterate style of the comments is open to debate.

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