‘YOLO’: Hong Kong police accidentally promotes drugs in anti-substance abuse campaign

The obsolete internet slogan, “YOLO,” is among the slogans Hong Kong police are using to promote their anti-drug campaign. Photo: Facebook/Sherry Wong
The obsolete internet slogan, “YOLO,” is among the slogans Hong Kong police are using to promote their anti-drug campaign. Photo: Facebook/Sherry Wong

Hong Kong police are sending mixed messages with their latest anti-substance abuse campaign.

For what the force has termed “Anti-Drugs Month” this June, officers are mobilizing across the city to raise awareness about the dangers of substance abuse. Among the signs they’re posing with is one that reads “YOLO,” as in the obsolete internet acronym, “you only live once.”

Given that the slang celebrates taking risks and embracing the unknown, the implications of it being used in an anti-drug campaign are clear—to everyone except, well, the police.

“[Y]ou only live once so go do drugs kids,” one Twitter user wrote.

In 2016, “YOLO” was among the new words added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Its definition reads: “‘You only live once’; used to express the view that one should make the most of the present moment without worrying about the future (often as a rationale for impulsive or reckless behaviour).”

On local forum LIHKG, netizens also pointed out the obvious irony of the campaign, with many mocking police officers’ seemingly poor understanding of English slang.

Read more: ‘Try my breast’: New Snickers ads poke fun at famous slips of the tongue

English educational pages on social media also picked up on the gaffe. “Saying YOLO (you only live once) in the context of drug use is equivalent to encouraging people to try taking drugs,” an Instagram account called @masteringgrammar wrote.

In a press conference Tuesday, police said they recorded a rising trend of narcotics-related cases in the first five months of the year. There were 1,415 cases from January to May, a 75% increase compared to the same period in 2020, acting chief superintendent Ng Wing-sze of the narcotics bureau said.

According to police, an “Anti-drugs Promotion Truck” will be making stops across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories to disseminate the campaign’s (inadvertently mixed) messages. A virtual reality encounter installed in the truck will allow members of the public to “experience the harmful hallucinations of drug abuse.”

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