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Two Democratic Party senators want to force YouTube and other platforms to change the way they deliver content to kids and are looking to create a new law that would upend both YouTube as a platform and how creators create content.
The Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act was introduced by Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal today and, if it gets passed, platforms would have to make significant changes to how they handle kids’ content.
“Kids are growing up viewing online content besieged by the crass commercialization of social media influencers, tobacco companies, fast food, and alcohol brands,” said Senator Blumenthal in a statement.
“By the age of 12 more than two-thirds of kids have their own smartphone, and more than twice as many young people watch videos every day than did in 2015. It’s time to get serious about protecting children online,” said Senator Markey.
Auto-playing videos, notifications, likes and dislikes – and even recommendations – would have to be switched off on any content that is made for kids, under the new proposed law.
Unboxing videos are a particular type of video that is popular with kids and Ryan’s World is one of the most popular out there. Under the new law, content from this channel could potentially no longer be allowed to be recommended to kids and it could severely cut the number of views that channel gets, as users would have to discover the content on their own.
“Children increasingly consume digital entertainment on the internet and are uniquely susceptible to manipulation online, given their lack of important neurological and psychological mechanisms which are developed later in adulthood,” the bill reads.
“Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other complex systems are used to make continuous decisions about how online content for children can be personalized to increase engagement.”
The law would also make illegal “any design feature or setting that unfairly encourages a covered user, due to their age or inexperience, to make purchases, submit content, or spend more time engaging with the platform.”
While the bill specifically outlines the most obvious targets of sexual or violent content which platforms will not be allowed to recommend to minors, it goes into much more general and subjective language to describe other forms of content that are banned from being recommended – namely, “dangerous, abusive, exploitative, or wholly commercial content.”
While bills such as this have, in the past, proved to be well-intentioned, they often don’t account for the vast scale of content that is created on a platform such as YouTube daily and makes wide assumptions that such a degree of content moderation is even possible at such scale.
Senator Ed Markey was one of the champions of the COPPA bill – “COPPA” being a word that will send a chill down the spine of many a YouTuber.
With the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act changes that were implemented in January, YouTube had to make wide-sweeping changes that put most of the liability on the content creators, much to the disappointment of YouTubers – many of which had their incomes drop by as much as 90% and had to abandon their channels after the changes were made.
The changes severely disincentivized anyone from making content for kids and many of the most popular YouTubers’ audiences right now are made up of millions of kids.