YouTube Announces New Policies in Response to Advertisers’ Child Safety Concerns

Letter goes out to brands, agencies and influencers

Today's letter follows a similar memo sent to partners last week.
Illustration: Ron Goodman for Adweek

YouTube took additional steps today to address a controversy that erupted earlier this month over child safety issues, sending a letter to brands, media buyers and top content creators detailing new initiatives to help protect underage users and prevent ads from running adjacent to offensive or illegal content.

The letter, which was acquired by Adweek, went out to a large swath of companies and agencies, many of which will also be contacted by the Google-owned platform on a one-to-one basis, according to parties with direct knowledge of the matter.

Several major advertisers, including Disney, Nestle, McDonald’s, AT&T and Epic Games, pulled or “paused” their YouTube ad buys last week after a 20-minute video posted by blogger Matt Watson demonstrated how pedophiles use comment threads on videos—many of which feature minors engaged in seemingly harmless activities—to network and share links to pornography.

YouTube’s letter is largely seen as a direct response to Watson’s video and advertisers’ subsequent dismay. It also arrives one day after the FTC issued a record fine to red-hot music app TikTok for alleged violations of child privacy laws.

The platform issued a memo to a similar group of partners last week, stating that it had begun disabling comments on “tens of millions of videos” that “could be subject to predatory [behavior]” as well as “reducing the discoverability” of content that had been flagged, terminating offending accounts and “increasing accountability” among the creator community.

Today’s letter states that this effort will continue and expand “over the next few months,” with the ultimate goal of prohibiting comments on all videos featuring “younger minors” as well as those that include older minors but have been labeled at-risk of attracting predatory behavior.

These classifications will be made almost entirely by algorithms, though YouTube did hire 10,000 people last year to manually review content in the interest of more accurately flagging offensive or potentially problematic materials. A “very small number” of accounts handpicked by the company will continue to manage their own comment threads.

Additional measures include the accelerated rollout of an updated machine learning “comments classifier,” which YouTube claims will eliminate twice as many offending comments as before. The company also promises to take a more unforgiving stance regarding creators deemed to have posted inappropriate material related to children. For example, Filthy Frank Clips and similar accounts were recently terminated.

“Despite this progress, threats have evolved and they’re more nuanced than ever,” reads the letter, which is embedded in full below. “Because of the importance of getting child safety right, we announced a series of blunt actions over the past week as we work to sharpen our ability to act more precisely.”

“Over the past week, we’ve been taking a number of steps to better protect children and families, including suspending comments on tens of millions of videos,” said a YouTube spokesperson. “Now we will begin suspending comments on most videos that feature minors, with the exception of a small number of channels that actively moderate their comments and take additional steps to protect children. We understand that comments are an important way creators build and connect with their audiences. We also know that this is the right thing to do to protect the YouTube community.”

In addition to the steps mentioned in the letter, the company published a forum post to update its millions of creators regarding these new policies. Many of those influencers, especially in the beauty and fashion realms, will be particularly affected by the changes as they are disproportionately minors. (YouTube allows users 13 and over to create accounts and upload videos.)

Eventually, the same approach could be applied to other areas of concern, such as anti-vaccine and conspiracy theory videos that prove particularly problematic for advertisers.

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