YouTube has been struggling recently to balance the needs of content creators, viewers, and advertisers. This week it rolled out changes to its strike system for content creators who upload content that violates the site’s guidelines, trying to clarify the consequence for uploading inappropriate material, and the week before there were problems in the PC hardware community with copyright strikes being using inappropriately to shut down media criticism on the platform. There have also been problems with rampant conspiracy theories spreading on the site, even leading to advertisements for health companies running before anti-vaccine content which has angered advertisers who did not know their companies were being promoted alongside dangerous and false health information.
Now an even bigger issue has arisen, with reports of child exploitation happening in the comment sections of videos featuring children. YouTuber Matt Watson raised the alarm on what he described a “soft-core pedophile ring” that passed messages, links, and contact information to each other in the comments of videos of young girls in particular. Following this revelation, a number of companies pulled their ads from the platform including Disney and Nestlé.
The response to this controversy on the part of YouTube has been to restrict the appearance of ads on content which could possibly be considered inappropriate. A parent complained on Twitter that innocent videos of her son doing gymnastics had been marked as “Not suitable for most advertisers.” According to a responding tweet from the official YouTube account on Friday, “we’ve taken a number of actions to better protect the YouTube community from content that endangers minors … even if your video is suitable for advertisers, inappropriate comments could result in your video receiving limited or no ads.”
This has lead to a lot of concern among content creators that their videos will be demonetized if they feature children at all. Worse still, creators may find their advertising income slashed because of the behavior of commenters on their videos. The YouTube comments section is famously awful and hard to moderate, and the threat of punishing creators because of commenters is not going down well. In response, YouTube has said that they will disable comments on videos of minors, which seems like a better solution, but that they will also continue to limit monetization of such videos as well.
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