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YouTube's First Step At Filtering for Families


On February 10, 2010, YouTube released a feature on its incredibly popular site that will allow parents to "lock" the website in "Safety Mode" and filter many objectionable videos. While the company is quick to point out that no filtering system is going to work perfectly, the site says their new Safety Mode should prevent young people from having access to many videos that contain adult content. When the filtering is enabled, it also hides text comments for videos until a user clicks on them. After other user comments are revealed, the often-frequent use of offensive words and profanities are replaced with asterisks.


I gave the new mode a test run on our family computer, and was only somewhat pleased with the results. To use it effectively, you must first sign in to your own YouTube account (you can create one very quickly if you don't already have an account). Then you scroll to the bottom of any YouTube page and look for the little line on the bottom left that says, "Safety Mode is off." Clicking on this link will allow you to engage safety mode. There is also a "lock" button you can select which will keep YouTube in Safety Mode on that particular browser.


But, what if your child has his or her own YouTube account? I'm happy to say that after signing out of my account, I signed back in to my son's profile. Sure enough, the browser remained locked in Safety Mode. When I tried to unlock it, it told me that I had to sign in under my own username and password to make that happen. Very nice!


While I welcome this addition to YouTube, sadly there are some flaws with this valuable new feature. Even with Safety Mode on, I could still see videos I would rather not have my kids watching. "Hot girls" shooting guns in bikinis, lingerie videos and frequent explicit profanities within videos all still seem to be family fare on YouTube. Considering YouTube's current policy of not allowing any nudity within a sexual context anywhere on the site, I wondered what the filter was blocking.


There are videos on YouTube that are behind a flimsy age verification barrier. For example, a news story about a pack of naked Canadians riding bikes in protest of oil companies was in this section. With Safety Mode enabled, it made it impossible to even see the age verification screen, thus increasing the effectiveness of securing YouTube's more edgy content. It also made searching for obvious sexual terms, like "naked" or "nude," impossible.


My last fear with this new YouTube feature is my wondering if the site may be setting up for delivering more adult and even pornographic content in the future. Just as increased sex and violence on television has been justified by parents being handed the V-chip, I hope the overall policy of YouTube not allowing any nudity within a sexual context -- even in the "adult" area of the site -- will not change in the future. For now, YouTube's new filtering is a positive move that helps parents. Yet, for the future, parents -- as always -- must be cautious about what content may appear on this site that is beginning to replace the TV set as the center of video entertainment.


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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