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Scare
tactics

That billboard featuring a Disney
princess on meth isn’t new
and probably didn't work

That billboard featuring a Disney princess on meth isn’t new and probably didn’t work

Despite what you may have read on the internet, Disney isn’t planning a new sequel to “Frozen” that recasts Elsa the Snow Queen of Arendelle as a Montana meth addict.

Several international media outlets have reported recently on a photo of a billboard in  Montana that features a drawing of a haggard-looking Elsa in handcuffs alongside the tagline “Meth: Just Let It Go,” an apparent reference to Frozen’s hit song.

None of the reports bother to mention that the billboard is nearly two years old and no longer on display. Many articles also regurgitate statistics about the success of the larger anti-meth ad campaign in Montana, despite the fact that it probably didn’t keep anyone from doing drugs.

Stories about the billboard were published by The Independent, The Guardian, and Russia’s state-funded news network RT, among others.

Amy Rue, executive director of the Montana Meth Project, an organization that tries to raise awareness about the dangers of meth by running scary ads, told VICE News the billboard was up for less than two weeks in 2015. It briefly stood alongside a road that connects the Montana cities of Townsend and Bozeman, Rue said.  

“Everyone is responding to this,” Rue said, noting that she has received several calls inquiring about the ad. “This billboard has been down almost two years.”

The Guardian went so far as to describe the billboard as “new.”

It’s unclear exactly what led the old billboard to go viral. Beyond the fact that it features a scabby Disney princess with a drug problem, it appears to be linked to a recent Facebook post by the account Bootleg Stuff, which describes itself as “a page devoted to laughing at bootlegged goods.” Bootleg Stuff posted a reader-submitted photo of the billboard on January 15, which was used to illustrate many of the recent articles.

Rue said a 13-year-old Montana girl created the drawing on the billboard in 2015 as part of a statewide anti-meth campaign and tried to play down the similarities to the Frozen heroine, noting that “it doesn’t say Elsa” anywhere on the ad. She also said the organization did not seek permission from Disney before erecting the billboard.

The Walt Disney Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to treating the old ad as if it were new, coverage of the billboard incorporated  questionable statistics from the Meth Project that tout the successes of the ad campaign, which often features graphic images like this one of a vacant-eyed young woman with a man on top of her and the words, “15 bucks for sex isn’t normal but on meth it is.”

The campaign, which dates back to 2005 and has now spread to six states, was initially bankrolled by a private backer but has since received millions of dollars worth of state and federal funding. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed about $500,000 worth of funding for the campaign in 2009 over concerns about its effectiveness. Critics have argued the money could be better spent on treatment for addicts.

Nevertheless, The Independent called the ads “very successful” and noted they’ve been credited with “significant declines in teen meth use in several states,” including a dramatic 63 percent drop in Montana.

Researchers, however, have cast doubt on those claims, suggesting that other factors beyond scaremongering ads are responsible for declines in teen drug use. A 2010 study from a professor at Montana State University concluded that “the relationship between the Meth Project and meth use was generally small and statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

Another study, published in 2008 in the peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Prevention Research, found that sensationalizing the dangers of meth might actually have the unintended consequence of making teens more likely to use the drug.

 

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