YouTube, a video sharing site took, the Internet by storm with its unique platform. Little did anyone know that the site would face many issues in its future. Troubles and controversies have plagued the site in recent years. From the infamous “Adpocalypes” to the spread of Nazi propaganda, YouTube seems like it will never catch a break. It doesn’t help that recently the company was taken to court over its issues with children’s privacy.
Google and YouTube were fined $170 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, when the Federal Trade Commission of New York determined that site violated the act by collecting children’s information and using it to sell targeted ads towards children. The New York Attorney General, Letitia James, stated, “Google and YouTube knowingly and illegally monitored, tracked, and served targeted ads to young children just to keep advertising dollars rolling in. These companies put children at risk and abused their power, which is why we are imposing major reforms to their practices and making them pay one of the largest settlements for a privacy matter in U.S. history.” Some believe that YouTube will not change much when it comes to advertising, but they appear to be making some changes.
In order to address the issue of their ads targeting childres, YouTube has changed its algorithm for collecting data to prevent children’s data from being collected. YouTube is also making changes specifically on children’s content channels by removing comments and notifications.
Protecting children from targeted ads is not the only issue that YouTube must deal with when it comes to children’s privacy. Another big and frightening problem would be the child predators that lurk in the comment sections of children’s videos.
Access to the internet is easier than ever for children. Through this, there are many children and family channels on YouTube. While these channels remain on the more innocent side, YouTube’s algorithm can turn these videos into a predator’s paradise. The recommendation algorithm seems to be muddied when it comes to children’s content. A researcher at Harvard, Jonas Kaiser, found that one does not have to search for children’s content to be recommended children’s content. One could find themselves looking at semi-erotic videos of women, followed by recommended videos of children in limited clothing or in vulnerable positions. Predators having access to this content have led these videos’ comment sections to be a cesspool of sexually explicit messages.
The grotesque messages in comment sections has lead YouTube to remove commenting from children’s videos. YouTube has also been reworking their recommendation algorithm, to block this pathway for predators.
While targeted ads and online predators are issues that should be taken care of, YouTube’s responses to these issues has not been well-received by some YouTubers. There are many content creators that have YouTube as their full-time job. The changes that YouTube has made in regard to children’s content could possibly be detrimental to these creators that rely on it as their only source of revenue. Melissa Hunter, the CEO of Family Video Network, an agency that works with children and family content creators stated, “People who I deal with at YouTube feel horrible that the creators are the ones who are going to be hurt by this.” Removing ads, comments, and notifications, makes creators lose a lot of money within the first 24 hours of an upload. This window of time is when the most interaction occurs with videos, so losing items that help boosts a video’s viewing count reduces the amount of revenue it will generate.
Some YouTubers are wondering if they will be hit with these stipulations, even if their channel is not directly geared towards children. KreekCraft, a gaming channel on YouTube is one of the many that are concerned about the future of their channels. He stated, “It’s kind of like they’re killing video game content, the top three games on YouTube right now are Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox, which are generally non-violent and child-centric games, especially Roblox. Now, we can’t make videos on more mature video games because they’ll get demonetized, but if we make videos on child-friendly games, they’re also now going to get demonetized. What do we do?” Instead of worrying over possible demonetization, some creators are posting their content on different sites, and gamers are moving to Twitch, a streaming site that is popular in video game streams.
So, YouTube is in between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they have to comply with the law and protect children, and on the other, they need to appease their creators. Right now, YouTube is focused on saving themselves and the creators are taking the brunt of the force. However, YouTube can find a way to appease both sides.
What can YouTube do? For starters, they can keep commenting and notifications on creator’s videos, these items are not advertisements, and help creators earn revenue. It’s not as though YouTube would be breaking the law by keeping commenting and notifications on these videos. Now, as stated earlier, some comment sections are rampant in sexually explicit messages. Instead of removing entire comment sections, YouTube should improve the systems that delete inappropriate comments that already exist. Instead of relying on a program to make decisions, they could have real life individuals determine what is inappropriate.
YouTube has come a long way from its beginnings and will continue to push boundaries in the future. As a company that relies on its community to create content, there will always be mishaps of some sort. YouTube is working to improve itself, and hopefully, they’ll keep their word on it.