#parent | #kids | YouTube’s new ‘made for kids’ content rules are a good first step

Creators are used to taking a beating from YouTube. They make the content that drives people to the site. They work to figure out a winning formula for their channel. And then, at the drop of a hat, YouTube can tweak a policy that completely transforms how visible their content is or how much money their channels make.

The latest YouTube policy change affecting kids content, which went into effect this week, is a big one. Creators and their viewers are once again freaking out.

What forced YouTube’s hand

On Monday, the Google-owned online video platform officially rolled out long-awaited changes to its kids content policy; changes sparked by the company’s prior violations of the U.S. law known as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

In 2018, child protection groups with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) arguing that YouTube was violating the children’s privacy law by collecting data on kids under the age of 13. The FTC found that the video platform was indeed collecting data on users who were watching children’s videos and using that information to serve targeted advertising. This in a $170 million fine for YouTube.

Technically, all YouTube needed to do to comply with COPPA was to stop collecting data on users under the age of 13. But, the FTC formally hitting YouTube with a violation of U.S. law pushed the company to go even further and really alter how it treats kids content as a whole.

What’s changed

As of January 6, 2019, YouTube now creators to label their channels and videos as “made for kids” if the primary audience for their content is children. Content that has a “mixed audience,” but is still directed at children would also fall under this label. For example, educational material for preschoolers, songs, stories, animation directed at kids, and content starring child actors would all be considered “made for kids,” even if older viewers make up a part of the audience.

Take Sesame Street. The show is undoubtedly made for children. And, although older people may enjoy watching it with their kids, the content is geared specifically towards children. Big Bird and Cookie Monster (well, more like the powers that be behind them) now have to mark their content as “made for children.” 

If an entire channel is designated as “made for kids,” YouTube will deactivate the channel’s stories, notifications, community posts, and memberships feature. If this is the case for a specific video, the “made for kids” designation means that comments, live chats, notifications, playlists, donations, and other interactive features are turned off on that content. (Trolls, therefore, can’t come in and leave inappropriate comments on the video.) Most importantly, YouTube will no longer serve personalized ads based on users’ viewing history.

While many creators are freaking out over these new rules, the fact is that most of them likely won’t be affected by the policy change. 

To alleviate concerns, YouTube has specifically pointed out that there is a “general audience” content designation, which it appears most YouTubers who make seemingly borderline content fall under. 

The potential creator impact

So, what’s really being lost by shutting off the comments? Parents can just reach out to a creator via their contact information if they have something to say. And, besides, how many six-year-olds were leaving comments on videos in the first place?

Your favorite vlogger who frequently narrates their family’s adventures at Disney World would not, however, have to mark their videos as “made for children,” even if kids happen to view that content as well. And there’s a lot more of the latter on YouTube than folks with their own educational muppet show.

While YouTube says it will automatically designate some content that is clearly for kids, this labeling can be manually changed by the creator. The company says it also has no intention to interfere with the switch in setting unless it’s being abused. This solves an issue many creators are complaining about concerning non-children’s content being mislabeled as for kids.

There is one especially valid concern from creators and it’s the sole change that was necessary due to COPPA: advertising. 

YouTube will no longer serve personalized ads on children’s content because it will no longer be collecting these users’ personal data — but, you know, this was the thing YouTube wasn’t legally allowed to do in the first place.

The platform’s highest earner, eight-year-old Ryan of the “made for children” channel, Ryan’s World, formerly known as Ryan ToysReview, may not be worrying too much. He’s pulling in millions. Smaller YouTubers, though, may take a hit with a noticeable change in revenue — it’s just too early to tell. 

Despite the changes, advertisers will still be able to target which videos and creators they’d like to advertise their toys and games on.

Misinformation has also been spreading online surrounding content discovery changes on YouTube in light of this new policy, which is the issue creators have really been worrying about. Those concerns, however, are unfounded. The ability to find these videos in search or in similar content recommendations is not affected by the “made for kids” designation. 

In fact, if your content is “made for kids,” it will probably be aided by the new designation. Now that creators can clearly label their videos for children instead of depending on the algorithm, it seems like YouTube would now be more likely to recommend them alongside appropriate children’s content.

Will there be some creators that get caught in a grey area? Sure. But for most channels, it will be cut and dry as to whether their content should be designated as “made for kids.” Will some users be upset that they can’t leave nostalgic comments on their favorite old shows and cartoons? Yes, and I can see how this is a legitimate issue. Hopefully, YouTube can work out solutions for all these exceptions to the rule, but these are pretty niche cases to worry about upfront.

The challenge ahead

The FTC fine was obviously a major turning point for YouTube when it comes to a major segment of its audience: children. Creators’ concerns about the impact this new policy will have are surely valid, but these changes are a step in the right direction, for sure. 

The real problem is that none of these COPPA-inspired changes solve YouTube’s original problem when it comes to minors on its platform: designating inappropriate content for children. 

The company has long been plagued with criticism over serving up harmful videos to children, often created by trolls or malicious creators looking to game the algorithm for monetary gain. 

Last year, YouTube outright disturbing videos intentionally targeting children from the platform. Shortly after, it made another major move by a separate kids’ version of its website — much like its mobile app — that only serves up approved children’s content.

However, YouTube clearly still has plenty of work to do there. Perhaps, the government can help force its hand again.


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