Launched back in 2005, YouTube has grown to be one of the top platforms for new media, with thousands of creators and an immense audience, but with minimal to no regulations, a virtual Wild West of online content creation.
This November, everything was about to change with the implementation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Creators were forced to set their audience accurately, labelling their content as either for children or adults. This was especially frightening for YouTubers whose channels are based around animation, gaming or cartoon videos, who may face legal repercussions if their content is mistaken as being for children.
Despite the wave of negativity that washed away the YouTube community, these types of regulations were bound to be put in place at some point.
Advertising to children
The finances behind earning money on YouTube go beyond the monetization of videos, with Youtubers selling merchandise, or promoting brands and products that sponsor them. For a long time, this was considered the norm and not much thought was put into who the audience exposed to those advertisements were.
Unsurprisingly, many children were amongst the subscribed audience of many controversial content creators, such as the Paul brothers. Apart from the questionable life lessons, like dropping out of school to become a YouTuber or constantly pranking your friends and family, Jake and Logan Paul would constantly plug their merch, actively telling children that they are not cool unless they own this or that.
I remember the good old days when I was a little bright-eyed child myself, and how I would pester my mom to buy me the most unnecessary things just because I had seen them in a coloured ad. I can only imagine what parents of this generation have to go through when something is so blatantly advertised towards their impressionable children. Just imagine you want 5 minutes of silence after coming tired from work, so you set the child in front of YouTube and you end up paying for 10 kilos of slime and 100 fidget spinners because Jake and co. said it would make them “cool”. God, I sound like a boomer…
Throughout their numerous controversies, the Paul brothers’ marketing strategy aimed at children was condemned multiple times, but no major action was taken to eliminate this kind of unethical advertising until now.
From January 2020, YouTube will limit the data that is collected from children, meaning that content labelled as being made for kids will not contain targeted advertising, their comment sections will be disabled, as well as the “Donate” button, among other features.
To whom is this content addressed?
The downside of enforcing rules on a previously lawless territory
While for creators like those mentioned above, COPPA acts as a more organized type of karma, there are other people on YouTube who shy away from the kid demographic, avoiding unethical advertisement to children, and who, in theory, should not be affected by this statute. Creators like Simplynailogical, that have said multiple times in their videos that their content is not addressed to children, may nonetheless still be affected by this law if their videos are mistaken for kids’ content.
And this is the downside of enforcing rules on a previously lawless territory. Animators, cartoon creators and gaming YouTubers could become collateral damage due to being labelled as unsuitable for an audience they are not trying to target.
Who decides what is made for children?
Similarly to the implementation of copyright infringement laws, YouTube aims to regulate obedience to COPPA through the use of machine learning.
What about creativity?
Many creators have expressed their distaste in regards to this implementation and have threatened to leave the platform altogether because of this constraint on their creativity. Worrying about whether or not their content will be interpreted as designed for children is just one too many concerns besides the pressure to please the algorithm ever since the crash in monetisation.
The Final Act
A ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ stand-off is expected between creators, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and an unarmed YouTube who will not protect its users if they are in violation of COPPA rules.
In the confusion of the dust settling over this new era of YouTube, some will perish, some will thrive. One thing is for certain, there is a new sheriff in town.