January 15, 2020

Will YouTube’s COPPA Improvements Address Pedophile Comments on Kids’ Videos?

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!

We believe that YouTube changing the ability to recommend children’s videos, and for the videos to be searchable, etc, may also help protect children on YouTube from malicious sexualized videos that were previously targeting them. However, we will have questions about how algorithms will work to ensure adult or graphic content does not accidentally end up in the “recommended videos” section for minors. So we are waiting to see how these changes roll out, and we are asking YouTube to take these concerns into account.

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.

 Picture From: https://beebom.com/adult-content-kids-videos-youtube/

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).

 Picture From: https://beebom.com/adult-content-kids-videos-youtube/

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.

Haley Halverson

Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach

Haley Halverson is the Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation where she develops and executes national campaigns to change policies and raise awareness. Most notably, she promotes corporate social responsibility by constructing annual activism campaigns like the Dirty Dozen List, which names 12 mainstream private companies that facilitate sexual exploitation. Her advocacy work has contributed to instigating policy improvements in the native online advertising, retail, and hotel industries.

She is a member of the Washington DC Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, September 2018-2019. This Committee advises DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on the multi-faceted continuum of the District of Columbia’s child welfare services, including prevention, early intervention, treatment, and sources of permanency.

Haley regularly speaks and writes on topics including child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, prostitution, sexual objectification, the exploitation of males, and more. She has presented before officials at the United Nations, as well as at several national symposia before influencers from the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Croatian government officials. She has provided training to Arlington County Child & Family Services on the social media grooming, recruitment, and advertising for sex trafficking. She has a Master of Arts in Government from Johns Hopkins University where she received honors for her thesis regarding the online commercial sexual exploitation marketplace.

Previously, Haley served for two years as Director of Communications for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation where she oversaw strategic messaging development, press outreach, email marketing, and social media marketing.

Prior to working at NCOSE, Haley wrote for Media Research Center. Haley graduated from Hillsdale College (summa cum laude) with a double major, and conducted a senior thesis on the abolitionist argument regarding prostitution. During her studies, she studied abroad at Oxford University and established a background in policy research through several internships in the DC area.

Haley has appeared on, or been quoted in, several outlets including the New York Times, NBC’s The Today Show, BBC News, New York Post, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Fox News, San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, Voice of America, Dr. Drew Midday Live, The DeMaio Report, the New York Daily News, the Washington Examiner, USA Radio Network, the Washington Times, CBC News, The Rod Arquette Show, The Detroit News, Lifezette, The Christian Post, Lifeline with Neil Boron, EWTN News Nightly, KCBS San Francisco Radio, LifeSiteNews, The Drew Mariano Show on Relevant Radio, News Talk KGVO, and American Family News.

She has written op-eds for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, FoxNews.com, Townhall.com, Darling Magazine, the Daytona-Beach News Journal, and has been published in the Journal of Internet Law and the journal Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and ViolenceShe has also contributed to a digital middle school curriculum regarding the links between sex trafficking and pornography as well as the public health impacts of sex trafficking.

Further Reading

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