Late last year, YouTube dropped a bombshell.
They announced sweeping changes to the way kids’ content is handled on their platform, in response to a landmark settlement reached between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York Attorney General, with Google.
Long story short, Google agreed to pay $170 million in fines over allegations that YouTube had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). They’ve also made significant changes to YouTube’s content and data collection rules around children.
And these are having a big impact on content creators.
Channel owners must now respond to one of two setting choices for their content:
made for kids or not made for kids.
Videos and channels listed as made for kids have lost key features on YouTube’s platform.
Individual videos no longer have a comments section, personalised ads, info cards and end screens. Meanwhile, entire channels marked as made for kids have lost the stories functionality, the community tab, notification bell and viewers can no longer “save to watch later” or “save to playlist”.
As you’ve probably guessed, these restrictions will limit the revenue content creators can make through their videos. Canning personalised ads for videos is obviously a big one, but even tougher is that sponsorship dollars will also be harder to attract, since viewer participation and retention is now more difficult on channels which feature for kids content.
What’s a kid?
A young goat.
Sorry, couldn’t resist!
In the US, a kid is defined as anyone under the age of 13 – whilst the legal age of kids varies region to region. Regardless of where you’re based, the COPPA rules generally apply and should be followed.
What happens if you don’t comply?
Well, this is what the FTC say:
“The Rule allows for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation, but the FTC considers a number of factors in determining the appropriate amount, including a company’s financial condition and the impact a penalty could have on its ability to stay in business. While Google and YouTube paid $170 million, in another COPPA case settled this year, the operator paid a total civil penalty of $35,000.”
Either way, that’s a lot of dollars.
Is your content compliant?
Here’s where it can get a little grey. As a content creator myself, I’ve been keeping a close eye on this. I post gaming, technology and toy related content and now, pretty much any time I upload a video, I have to select the content for kids option. On top of that, I often sit in front of colourful RGB lights in my videos which can be interpreted as child-oriented.
For others it’s less clear, since there are plenty of topics where adult and children interests intersect. Even in the world of games it’s tricky. It wouldn’t be accurate to label all video games as “for children” just by virtue of being a game – there are plenty of video games (and game reviews) that are designed purely for adult viewing.
In a release from YouTube, these are the factors they say you should consider when deciding whether your content is made for kids, or not:
- If children are the intended audience
- If it includes child actors or models
- If it includes characters, celebrities or toys that appeal to children
- If it uses language that is meant for children to understand
- If it includes activities that appeal to children
- If it includes songs, stories or poems that appeal to children
If channel owners don’t choose whether their content is made for kids or not, YouTube has developed an algorithm that will choose for them (though they’ve advised creators not to rely on it). In cases where creators feel that YouTube has wrongly categorised their content, they can appeal by hitting a “send feedback” button.
For organisations and individuals creating YouTube content that’s very obviously not aimed at children (e.g. a mortgage advice channel), it’s business as usual.
For others with content that’s sometimes intended for children (or could be interpreted that way), extra care needs to be taken to ensure you’re labelling your videos correctly. And in cases where you’re unsure, it could be worth seeking legal assistance to help determine that you’re doing the right thing.
Whilst we’ve seen an exit of content creators on YouTube in response to these changes, the power of video to connect, entertain and influence remains as strong as ever.
These changes in law and process aren’t perfect, but at least take us a little closer to ensuring our most vulnerable members of society can browse online safely.