The number of social media posts about drugs on Hong Kong’s internet has tripled in six years, where hashtags, animation characters, and NFTs are often used to promote ad campaigns about drugs, according to a survey of Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups’ Youth Crime Prevention Center.
The survey has shown that drug-related social media posts in Hong Kong has increased from 927 in 2016 to 3,114 in 2021; the number of views has also risen from 3.5 million in 2016 to 7.6 million in 2021. Among them, the year 2020 was at the peak of the surge, with 5,402 posts gathering 10 million views. Most of the social media posts were related to marijuana, ecstasy, elixirs (LSD), ketamine (Ker), and cocaine.
The study also found out that there are more than 1,000 active and high-risk social media users in Hong Kong, some of whom are suspected drug addicts or drug sellers, who often use popular comic cartoon characters, memes, hashtags, NFTs to promote drug-related ad campaigns on social platforms.
Digging further into related posts in 2021, it is estimated that their main reasons for drug use include seeking excitement (44%), getting rid of negative emotions (38%), and underestimating the severity of drug use (15%), according to the study.
Bob Lee Siu Chui, supervisor of Youth Crime Prevention Centre, said: “Comprehensive social media users, questionnaire surveys and observations of frontline social workers show that some young people have misconceptions about drugs. In particular, CBD has been advertised as a stress reduction and health care product in recent years, which induces young people to reduce their vigilance.”
She also suggested that the continuous use of big data analysis, combined with the frontline experience of social workers, will help to understand the latest social media users’ attitudes and behavior patterns towards drugs, and to formulate anti-drug education for social media users.
On the marketing front, David Leung, head of branding, research and development at Maxim’s Group as well as a NFT artist photographer, said NFT or web3 is still in early days in terms of its governance, so some people may take this chance to explore illegal possibilities, given may be even the government does not have the law about it yet.
“Younger generations are more Web3 savvy, and using NFTs as a bridge may make them feel they belong to certain community, and that’s what the drug dealers want to target. For marketers, it is good to be aware of but I do not see much worry about it as long as the campaigns are legit. It is still a very potential platform for brands and individuals to reach new or younger audiences,” Leung added.
Meanwhile, Anson Shum, vice-president of marketing at Sauvereign, said: “NFT marketplaces are supposed to be a perfect platform for young artists and creators to showcase their creativity, and some people might take advantage of this as the common myth about creative people is that they use drugs and alcohol in order to channel inspiration and make better art. While it may be true for a few, but drug use is absolutely not essential to the creative process as many researches showed.”
Shum added that if this situation persists, it could be a general decrease in hype and the reputation of the industry will hammer. “I think gradual change is needed to be taken towards putting guidelines in place to make the ecosystem safe and to ensure a sustainable growth of the industry,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ken Cheung, digital director at KREW DIGITAL, said: “Social media platform owners may just leverage AI robots or keyword-based technology to gate keep illegal products, so it’s easier for drug sellers to sell drugs with social media visuals or ‘witty’ copies, crafting a ‘positive image’ for their products. The extravagant visuals would be the best tool to impact audiences, instilling a false perception that it’s a trendy product.”
Cheung also said that NFT would further intensify this trend as it works on decentralizing trading platforms which may make law enforcers more difficult to monitor their activities. “Hence drug sellers may be keen on maneuvering around the gray area for using fake accounts or leverage some KOL accounts to carry out drug ad campaigns which are very cost effective and low risk,” he added.