Child Protection on YouTube: What Progress?

Created in 2015, the YouTube Kids platform has been described as a “dedicated and child-friendly” application that allows them to access secure online content.15.

To this end, the application provides various protective mechanisms for controlling the content available to the youngest (1). However, if these processes really seem to be advances in protecting minors, then unfortunately YouTube Kids remains a platform that is only given to content creators and not imposed (2). This last point therefore raises questions about the actual effectiveness of this creation.

1 – Defensive mechanism

Designed as a destination platform and designed for children, YouTube Kids presents a variety of protective mechanisms specifically applied.

Comment space has been deleted. Under this process, we can thus note the deletion of comment space. It does not exist on YouTube Kids, unlike the classic platform.

If the comment space can be an opportunity for customers to share their opinions with content creators of their choice, unfortunately it has become a regular place for various attacks (insults, physical, inappropriate comments on content, harassment on the line). Juniors are not immune to such criticism, even hatred, as has been proven in some cases16.

The removal of comment space therefore reflects inappropriate comments and more generally the desire to best protect against any kind of harassment or violence that may thus manifest itself.17.

Controlled and adapted content. We can also highlight the fact that the platform aims to establish a number of options that allow parents to control the content available to the youngest.

When registering on the platform, parents are asked to configure the application by selecting a category based on age. Thus three categories are proposed:

  • Children 4 years of age or younger, known as the “Toddler” category;

  • Children aged 5 to 8 years, known as the “small” category;

  • Children 9 to 12 years old, known as the “adult” category.

These sections are designed to best adapt the proposed content to the child’s age Depending on the category selected, the proposed content may vary and be adapted. For example, although sex education content such as adolescence or reproduction may be given in the “older” category, this content is not tolerated in the other two categories. Similarly, while it is possible to offer age-appropriate beauty products, videos with comments about make-up tutorials in the “Biggest and Smallest” section, these topics are completely excluded in the “Younger Kids” section.

Unlike classic platforms that offer content for everyone, in principle, without pressing age-appropriate filters18YouTube Kids handles a real selection of content according to the age of the viewers.

Exclude content containing commercial elements. Finally, more specifically in the case of advertising, the platform has banned any type of video, including commercial content.

In particular, famous placements of advertising products have been noticed, which have now become soldiers in digital platforms and other social networks.

Platform rules specify that videos containing paid product placements or promotions are prohibited and will be removed from the application. Some examples, guided by the FTC’s recommendations, are given to illustrate these commercial elements. Videos that focus directly on viewers buying the product, focusing on the packaging or unpacking of the product, persuading the use or over-storing content of the product fall into this category and may be prohibited.

This prohibition also follows various condemnations19. In 2015, the platform was accused of mixing entertainment and advertising20 Offers official chains of brands like McDonald’s, Barbie or Fisher Price. In August 2019, Truth in Advertising, an independent advertising watchdog, filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that YouTube channels presented content designed for children and where commercial content was approved, even encouraged.21.

In fact, many children’s channels are best known for offering this type of content. For example, “unboxing” or “hall” videos are very common on children’s channels. These Anglicisms designate the types of videos published on the Internet, where a person unpacks and presents the products he has received or purchased. These videos have gone viral on the YouTube platform. From 2020, it is estimated that the number of YouTube videos referring to the term “unboxing” will increase by 871% and the event will generate more than 1.1 billion views.22.

This product presentation represents a significant part of the content targeted to children. In terms of the number of videos posted on YouTube, for example, unpacking chocolate eggs or surprise eggs from famous brands like Kinder or Disney represent more than 10 million results. Some of these videos will generate 500 to 600 million views23. The scope of the incident is therefore very real.

In addition, such content, highly acclaimed by both children and parents, can generate astronomical income. Some statistics allow us to be sure about the marketing impact of such videos. According to Forbes Magazine, 9-year-old YouTuber Ryan Kazi, known for his toy featured videos, ranked first among the world’s highest paid YouTubers in 2020. The latter will record 29.5 million and 1.2 billion views between 2019 and 202024. Seven-year-old YouTuber Nastya came in seventh with more than 107 million subscribers and চ 28 million from her channel, including a number of content sponsored by brands such as Danone or Legoland.25.

In France, channels like Swan and Neo, Demo Toys or Studio Bubble Tea have millions of subscribers.26 And regularly present videos of packing and presentation of toys or other products that may encourage the youngest to consume.

On October 13, the UFC-Que-choisir Association also filed a complaint against the television channel for misleading commercial practices. Fast foodMcDonald’s France27. According to the association, McDonald’s will be guilty of secret advertising. The brand will enter into partnership agreements with young YouTubers to encourage their customers to use the brand’s products. We see in particular, in some videos, these young videographers pretending to open their own restaurant at home by simply presenting the stamped products “McDo”, unpacking the surprise package “Happy Mail”, while generously thanking the brand.28.

This way we understand that these children’s channels can also be more or less disguised advertising channels, and that this form of commercial content promotion is not just reserved for influential channels presenting videos for older adults.

The ban on commercial content on the YouTube Kids platform is therefore welcome, especially since, in comparison, the ban on advertising on television programs targeting children has been in effect for several years.29.

Enough progress? At first glance, this restriction seems to be an important step in protecting young people from the effects of Internet advertising. However, one wonders if the YouTube Kids app really protects the youngest? Indeed, the absence of the obligation to publish content intended only for children on this particular platform raises questions about the effectiveness of our such creations.

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