The FTC is going to destroy online video production

So hey you may want to nuke every single youtube video you have ever made right now and I am dead serious, the FTC could actually fine you $42,000 for the most arbitrary reasons imaginable.

The passing of COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, passed and what this means is that they’re about to start policing all online videos to see if they’re child friendly.

Here’s the kicker that currently has me on the verge of a panic attack: The FTC gets the last word on what is targeted at children. Even if you mark your entire channel as not for kids, all it takes is seeing one anime or video game character in a thumbnail and you’re doomed. Here are the actual, horrific, so loose they apply to basically everything guidelines:

  • Subject matter of the video (e.g. educational content for preschoolers).
  • Whether children are your intended or actual audience for the video.
  • Whether the video includes child actors or models.
  • Whether the video includes characters, celebrities, or toys that appeal to children, including animated characters or cartoon figures.
  • Whether the language of the video is intended for children to understand.
  • Whether the video includes activities that appeal to children, such as play-acting, simple songs or games, or early education.
  • Whether the video includes songs, stories, or poems for children.
  • Any other information you may have to help determine your video’s audience, like empirical evidence of the video’s audience.

That bolded bit right there is HORRIFYING. I’m deleting every video I have ever posted in the coming week because I am not dealing with this horse shit. I refuse to have my life ruined because I did an LP of a Bleach game.

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First I would like to see them try and do this when on average there is something like 550,000+ hours of content added to YouTube every day. Google itself is failing to maintain this on their own, unless the FTC is about to get some major funding just for the policing of YouTube videos I assume you have to be hitting something like 50,000 views before you are even on the radar. Not to mention they will supposedly have to review the entire back catalog of what is already out there.

My advice from a not lawyer, put a two second disclaimer at the start of a video saying it’s not for children and in the description as well. Just like they do on TV. I think YouTube now also has some system in place where you explicitly mark a video as not being for kids.

Anyway catch me outside the next PAX South selling Vine compilations on flash drives.

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I’m surprised YouTube didn’t lobby their way out of this.

The problem is that most video producers don’t have the time or resources to fight fines in court, and those fines are HUGE. This basically destroys interest in making video content because of how easily it could all be wiped out if you get unlucky enough for some random FTC employee catching their kid watching something you made or a thumbnail pops up in their recommendations.

The risk is just beyond imaginable for most producers.

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Worth noting that these changes from YouTube were in response to an FTC settlement over personalized (tracking-based) ads running on kid-targeted content. YouTube could make this all go away in an instant by ending their use of invasive tracking site-wide rather than making every individual video creator split hairs on exactly what traffic YouTube is legally allowed to track. But personalized ads are very slightly more profitable than context-based ads, so here we are.

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COPPA appears to have existed since 1998 to prevent social media sites from datamining children, and many of those sites followed that rule by just not letting 13 year olds use their websites. Whether that actually worked (it didn’t b/c you can lie on the internet) is up for debate. Part of the issue with YouTube now appears to be that they blatantly broke it with their algorithmic targeting and content and had to settle in court, so due to that, the burden of the law is now being shifted to creators. I don’t think this is going to tank all video game or animation related video content. Some of that stuff is blatantly not for children. There’s no way the FTC can argue that a Let’s Play for a game like GTA is marketed at children under 13 (regardless if their parents let them play it), or that they can argue that animated media as a whole is targeted at children. We’re out of the era in which that assumption could reasonably be made, not that it was ever reasonable to make in the first place.

The issue with this is that YouTube appears to be relying on self-labeling your content, which means creators who made content with games marketed at children (e.g. Pokemon, Minecraft) need to go back and mark their content as Not For Children, and keep that in mind for future content. With creators who straddle that line, like toy reviewers and people making content out of certain video games (see prior examples), things are going to get a lot more dicey since those could be reasonably stated to be targeting children.

In fact, the interesting thing is that the articles I’ve found states that a lot of the issue is that not only can YouTube not use targeted ads in child-targeted content anymore (good, imo, since abusing a child’s trust to get at their parents’ money is a fucking reprehensible thing to do, and also that was never legal to begin with), but that they’re also losing a lot of tools to direct the audience back to their channel, or even to other child-friendly videos. Much of the concern isn’t just around potential fines, but the effect this can have on content creators who intentionally make child-based content and won’t have access to the same tools that allow them to continue to make their living. The Verge goes into this a little more in this article about it.

Ultimately, I think they’re right in that YouTube is doing the bare minimum and that foisting the possibility and burden of fines off into creators is a shit move on their part, but it honestly tracks when you consider everything about the way that website is run. I also think that they’re correct that the FTC is primarily looking to target content creators that are actually well-known and pulling in enough money to pay these fines, since ultimately the point of a fine isn’t only punishment, but punishment that enriches the organization doling it out.

While it’s not something I would personally be rushing to do, whether or not a creator decides to erase their content is ultimately up to them. I think that the way this is going to be implemented is going to be a huge mess, however I’m resisting the urge to place more weight on this until we see how this is actually going to be enforced, because right now it reads like an FTC monetization pipe dream.

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