GameChanger discontinues relationship with TikTok after removal of drug-prevention advertising

By Matthew Young, RealWV

GameChanger, the highly successful West Virginia-based substance misuse prevention program, encountered unexpected resistance last week from TikTok, as the social media platform removed GameChanger’s “One Pill Can Kill” educational campaign from the app due to perceived advertising policy violations. 

As reported Monday by FoxNews’ Aishah Hasnie, “The group (GameChanger) paid thousands of dollars to buy these ads on the popular app, TikTok. But then TikTok abruptly removed them.” Hasnie added that GameChanger Executive Director Joe Boczek advised FoxNews that TikTok informed him that the ads “violated the platform’s policy because they reference fentanyl and other harmful drugs.”

“I have friends who have put their kids in the ground,” Boczek said while speaking with Hasnie. “I have friends who have watched their kids go through the horrors of drug addiction. All we want to do is try to save these kid’s lives.”

In a second FoxNews report on Monday, it was announced that TikTok would be reinstating the ads. While GameChanger initially told FoxNews that they intended to resume running the campaign on TikTok, the organization soon decided to discontinue their association with the platform. 

In a statement released on Tuesday, representatives from GameChanger stated: “GameChanger will continue the pursuit of our ultimate goal through the One Pill Can Kill campaign to educate our youth and encourage parents, grandparents, guardians and teachers to begin conversation about the dangers of fentanyl, taking counterfeit pills and other illicit drugs.

“After consulting with stakeholders and our prevention team, we have made the decision not to run any ads on TikTok, and, as a result, will double our efforts through other social media platforms. We thank FoxNews and others who have assisted in shining such a bright light on this issue, and we will continue our mission to educate our young people and save their lives.”

While speaking about the situation with RealWV on Wednesday, Boczek said, “We launched a massive social media campaign – including on TikTok – because that’s the best avenue to reach the masses. After we were up for about a month, they (TikTok) notified our firm in D.C. that the ads violated their advertising policy and they took us off.”

“Basically they just took us down,” Boczek added. “Our people tried to reason with them to no avail.”

It was at this point when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, became involved in the situation. Manchin, who has previously expressed support for legislation seeking to ban TikTok, told Fox News, “They (TikTok) don’t have the best interests of the American youth, or the American public. I’ll guarantee you that this doesn’t happen in China.”

Manchin further expressed his belief that a ban on TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, would have tremendous bipartisan support. In February, President Joe Biden issued an executive order banning the use of TikTok on all devices owned by the federal government. TikTok has not responded to RealWV’s request for comment. 

“We issued a statement yesterday that said we weren’t going back on (TikTok),” Boczek said. “We’ve decided to pursue other areas of social media.”

Despite the recent challenges presented by TikTok, GameChanger continues to expand its impact across the Mountain State, and has enjoyed successful partnerships with both the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in recent years. In May, the program will host its third-annual GameChanger Golf Classic fundraiser at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. 

“Roy Williams is our keynote speaker this year,” Boczek said. “It’s amazing how much this has grown. Sometimes it’s daunting, but it’s just amazing how much good it’s done.”

Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban, and Grammy Award-winning musician Brad Paisley delivered the event’s keynote addresses in 2021 and 2022 respectively. 

In January, GameChanger concluded a successful run of their “One Pill Can Kill Exhibit” at the Culture Center in Charleston. And on Feb. 21, more than 2,000 students from North Marion, East Fairmont, and Fairmont Senior high schools gathered at Fairmont State University for a viewing of the GameChanger produced film of the same name. The event was hosted by West Virginia’s Governor and GameChanger’s official Head Coach Jim Justice. 

For more information about any of GameChanger’s programs, including the upcoming Golf Classic, visit gamechangerusa.org. 

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