Children are consuming more and more of their video entertainment outside the traditional confines of a television set. Home video products, services and digital technologies such as the Internet, cell phones, DVDs, iPods, video games, cable/satellite pay-per-view, and time-shifting technologies like TiVo offer an abundance of opportunity; but they also bring an abundance of risk for parents. Realizing this fact, the Parents Television Council (PTC) has conducted an analysis of entertainment content available to children on the Internet’s most popular video destination: YouTube.
For its first ever analysis of online content, the PTC focused on the most popular YouTube search terms from March through October of 2008 as published by Internet analysts Compete Data Hub. In total, the PTC analyzed 280 YouTube videos. The PTC also analyzed the text commentary prominently displayed alongside “child-friendly” YouTube videos which are found by entering search terms for popular children’s entertainment like the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, High School Musical, and Hannah Montana.
The results from this study should serve as a wake-up call for any parent concerned about graphic or indecent material on websites they might perceive as being “safe” for their children. While most parents might not be surprised to learn that search terms employing words like “sex” and “porn” are likely to yield YouTube video content containing graphic sexual themes and portrayals, most would be stunned to know that seemingly “innocent” search terms are also likely to generate harshly profane material.
Although their current policy states that YouTube isn't a place for porn, and they appear to be diligent in implementing some level of age-based content gating procedures, those policies do not seem to extend to text commentary, links, or InVideo advertisements. Some videos advertised web addresses and provided links to hard-core and soft-core pornography that put extremely graphic content only one click away from the user.
Children entering such “child-friendly” search terms as Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, High School Musical, and Hannah Montana were confronted with highly offensive content in the accompanying text commentary posted by other site users:
Other Findings: The 20 highest-ranked YouTube videos from each of the site’s most popular search terms yielded an extraordinary amount of graphic and adult-themed content.
Fifty percent of the videos under the search term “Lil Wayne” featured verbalized non-muted expletives, including “fuck,” “motherfucker,” “ass,” “pussy,” “dick,” “bitch,” “shit,” and “nigger.”
Among the videos that included links under the search term “porn,” 48% of the link destinations provided hard-core pornography. These videos depicted the most sexually graphic content without requiring age verification or alerting the user regarding upcoming graphic content. Clicking a link would instantly take the user to a webpage containing extremely graphic photos and videos of homosexual and heterosexual oral and anal sex, manual stimulation of male and female sex organs, sexual intercourse and more.
YouTube should be commended for its recently-announced, proactive steps to rein-in all manner of inappropriate content. Namely, the site will impose stricter standards for what qualifies as “sexually suggestive” material subject to age-restricted viewing, and videos containing such content will be “algorithmically demoted” on the Most Viewed, Top Favorites and other browse pages. Pornographic videos are prohibited, as are videos featuring animal abuse, drug use, and bomb making. YouTube has vowed that repeated violations of these rules will result in termination of the user’s account.
As a leading site for online video, YouTube has a special responsibility to protect kids. While these measures represent an important step in protecting children from inappropriate content online, they don’t go far enough. YouTube's new policies also need to extend to user comments, links, and InVideo advertisements. These new policies should be further augmented by formulating and adopting a thorough, accurate and transparent content rating system which would allow a parent to block a child from viewing age-inappropriate material. And as is true with all forms of advertiser-supported entertainment content, sponsors must maintain a diligent awareness of the material whose distribution they are underwriting with their advertising dollars.