YouTube has long been criticized by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation for its inefficient efforts to remove sexually graphic and grooming material.
In 2019, NCOSE researched claims of pedophile rings, child erotica, and child exploitation on YouTube and found alarming results confirming the original reports and continued use of the platform for exploitive purposes. Learn more about that by watching this video here.
Now, after violating federal laws about child privacy, it looks like YouTube may be improving.
YouTube recently made an announcement in November of 2019 about several changes and updates, particularly regarding videos directed towards, or appealing to, children.
These changes have come about because according to TechCrunch:
The FTC in September imposed a historic fine of $170 million for YouTube’s violations of COPPA (the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). It additionally required YouTube creators to now properly identify any child-directed content on the platform.
To comply with the ruling, YouTube created a system where creators could either label their entire channel as child-directed, or they could identify only certain videos as being directed at children, as needed. Videos that are considered child-directed content would then be prohibited from collecting personal data from viewers. This limited creators’ ability to leverage Google’s highly profitable behavioral advertising technology on videos kids were likely to watch.
As a result, YouTube creators have been in an uproar since the ruling, arguing that it’s too difficult to tell the difference between what’s child-directed content and what’s not.
According to Vox, marking a video “for kids” has some ramifications. These include:
- Videos marked for kids will no longer feature personalized ads, meaning the ad revenue from those videos will substantially drop.
- Videos marked for kids will lose their comments sections; entire channels marked “for kids” will additionally lose their “community” tab, which fosters discussion of and around that channel and its content.
- Videos marked for kids will also lose lots of customization options that help creators drive audiences to other videos they’ve made, like info cards and end screens.
- Users subscribed to any channel that uploads a video designated for kids won’t be notified when that video is uploaded. Additionally, that video won’t appear in a YouTube search, and it won’t appear under algorithmic recommendations on other channels.
Vox goes on to write: “In other words, videos directed at children will effectively be quarantined away from the rest of the website’s community: The videos — or entire channels — will still exist, but no one will be able to find them in searches or recommendations, comment on them, or easily navigate to more related content from that channel.”
How does this impact sexual exploitation on YouTube?
These changes were made primarily for privacy reasons, yet they hold positive potential for preventing sexually exploitive practices on YouTube.
It appears that, by removing comments on videos of children, YouTube will be removing the vast majority of previous pedophile grooming and networking which was occurring in those comment sections. This is a victory!
Is YouTube Now Perfectly Safe? No.
There are still several concerns with YouTube, including videos targeting children with sexually explicit and graphic messages that are still flourishing.
As recently reported on Beebom:
Some Hindi channels on YouTube are posting videos that are highly sexual in nature, and disguising them as videos aimed at kids, which is even worse. These channels post videos with thumbnails with sexually explicit text written on them in Hindi, but the title of the videos are kept kid-friendly, such as “How to draw an elephant”. The actual content of the video itself is also kept kid-friendly, but the audio is downright horrifying.
It’s noteworthy that YouTube, in order to comply with COPPA regulations, asks channels to specify if a video is kid-friendly or not. That’s a restriction these channels seem to be trying to get around by making the videos seem kid-friendly.
The problem is, any child searching YouTube for a simple how-to video can accidentally come across this content on the website and be exposed to this content. I tried a search for “How to draw” on YouTube in incognito mode, and this result (NSFW) pops up in the first page itself (the text in the thumbnail has been blurred out by me).
The full ramifications from YouTube’s recent updates have yet to be realized.
But one thing is clear – these updates have great potential and show why it’s important to continue pressuring YouTube to make minor safety a priority.