It goes without saying that YouTube is the most accessible entertainment platform right now.
Over 30 million people worldwide are consuming over 150 million hours of content per day. And that number doesn’t even account for one of the fastest rising demographics - children.
YouTube does actually specify way down in its terms of service that “If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service”. However, that isn’t stopping millions of kids from watching whatever they can find and there’s nothing to stop YouTube hosting it.
“Our generation and younger are now growing up with these online influencers and instead of watching TV or a movie, they'll watch a Twitch stream for the day. That is the content that they're consuming,” said Brandon Freytag, founder of streamer management company Loaded.
Freytag likens influencers to the television stars of yesteryear. The media personalities that we are exposed to are likely to play a part in our evolution whether we’re aware of it or not. We grow up with them, idolise them, and see them as examples of how to act, speak and think.
Not only are children absorbing this content, but they are also shaping their thoughts, ideologies, and beliefs alongside it. The people that they see online become the people they want to be. And in many cases, that person will be someone who may not be responsible enough to accept the challenge.
Two names synonymous with YouTube are Logan and Jake Paul. The two internet sensations began their careers in the eyes of children; Jake’s career started on the Disney channel before transcending to the now-defunct video platform Vine. Logan’s career on Vine began shortly after. When Vine shut down, the two brothers hopped over to YouTube.
Both Logan and Jake’s channels are not explicitly targeted towards kids, but that is where their audience lies. Their content passes as child-friendly because it doesn’t clash with YouTube’s community guidelines, which outlines.
- Nudity or sexual content
- Harmful or dangerous content (though videos showing dangerous acts may be removed depending on their severity)
- Hateful content
- Violent or graphic content
- Harassment and cyberbullying
- Spam, misleading metadata and scams
However, there’s nothing in these guidelines that prevents sheer stupidity from falling through these loose filters and influencing millions of kids every single day.
Fall from grace
Logan Paul came under fire last year when he released a vlog featuring an actual corpse. This year, his younger brother seems keen to head straight down that same avenue with a slew of nonsense involving promoting gambling and walking into busy traffic blindfolded.
Again, this isn’t behaviour that can be sufficiently punished by YouTube; there’s nothing in the code of conduct that states creators need to have common sense. However, when a YouTuber assumes the role of an influencer, a certain degree of self-awareness is not just needed but expected.
While the Paul brothers are not the only example of creators using their prowess badly, they are two of the world’s most recognisable and prominent online creators.
Additionally, if we cast our minds back to last year, a challenge that encouraged youngsters to eat Tide Pods swept across YouTube and became so prominent that both the platform and Proctor & Gamble had to make separate statements about why it’s not healthy to literally ingest soap. This brand of idiocy is perpetuated by some YouTube creators and replicated by the kids that admire them.
Jake Paul, whether he’s aware of it or not, is telling millions of young, impressionable viewers that online gambling is okay. That walking out into traffic is a fun stunt. That harassing strangers in the street is acceptable if someone is holding a camera. None of that is okay. At a certain point, some kids may begin to know better than doing an attempting something stupid that they saw online, but that’s not the reality for all.
To give credit where it’s due, the platform did update its community guidelines this week, adding a clause to dissuade creators from publishing ‘prank’ and ‘challenge’ videos that appear dangerous. This should see YouTube working harder to moderate this type of content, but the guidelines did already stipulate that videos showing dangerous acts may be removed.
When a YouTuber assumes the role of an influencer, a certain degree of self-awareness is not just needed but expected.
The guidelines now state: “YouTube is home to many beloved viral challenges and pranks, but we need to make sure what’s funny doesn’t cross the line into also being harmful or dangerous.” It has also taken action by banning Jake Paul’s recent Bird Box challenge video, in which he walks into traffic, blindfolded.
YouTube’s under 13 audience is expanding constantly, but the platform’s efforts to segregate PG content have been mediocre at best. Even content that is successfully filtered is historically plagued with things not meant for children.
But if YouTube won’t filter that, what can parents do?
The rise of kid-tech
A whole industry of kid-tech companies exists to provide alternative safe platforms for children under 13. Tech company SuperAwesome is an example. It established PopJam, a social network designed for children, and SafeFam, an initiative that works with influencers to make sure they are 100 per cent family-friendly.
Video platform Tankee is another example; a site built to host gaming content just for kids. Creators are vetted for cleanliness, their content is approved, and young children can binge Fortnite and Roblox videos safely.
But YouTube is not these platforms, nor is it built to be. It doesn’t need a kid’s section because it isn’t built for kids. It’s fundamentally an adult platform and the guidelines state that kids shouldn’t even use it. But the reality is that they are, and will continue to do so, and that’s not something that YouTube can ignore.