First, the news: Youtube is being threatened with nonexistence. It is not a dramatic threat, but it is a serious one. It is coming in the form of COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and specifically due to a new rule introduced into the CFR by the Federal Trade Commission. The Act requires content providers to maintain anonymity for underage users, and the boundaries of that mandate are clarified by regulations authorized by the Act.
I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not going to pretend to be one. What I will do is provide a link to a lawyer who regularly provides content for Youtube, explaining the specifics of the process.
Youtube has told its content creators that they are responsible for navigating any potential lawsuits. This has creators who have channels with high child viewership to be concerned. Youtube has also taken steps to comply with the new rule interpretation, which has the content creators even more concerned.
Youtube channels depend on advertising revenue to stay afloat, and the Youtube platform takes a portion of those dollars. Removing targeted advertising from children’s programming diminishes the revenue, as targeted ads are more lucrative than general ones. Removing tracking cookies and comments, however, pose a serious risk to the content providers.
These channels thrive on comments and the sense of community built therein. Even though the platform requires all users to be above the age of 13, many underage viewers use, with blessing, their parents’ accounts to comment or simply read through the comments regularly, feeling they are part of the community without actively contributing. Stripping away comments will damage the revenue stream of the content provider.
Removing tracking cookies will prevent viewers from seeing that their favorites have new content available; this is an even graver threat to the continued operation of Youtube youth content providers.
The threat is dire enough that prominent Youtube celebrities like DanTDM (Dan Middleton) have been given personal audiences with FTC commissioner Christine S. Wilson. Dan’s meeting is to be held today.
For those unfamiliar with DanTDM, he’s an Englishman who is worth between $20 and $45 million and has raised it primarily by uploading short films to Youtube of him playing video games. He has worked to keep all of the videos child-friendly and informative as well as entertaining, specializing in games like Minecraft which are particularly loved by kids. He has books, lunchboxes, backpacks, toys, and even a live tour which was recently simulcast to movie theaters throughout the world.
If the new FTC rule is not modified or re-interpreted, it runs a serious risk of killing Youtube content for children. Youtube, like most large companies, gets much of its revenue from a variety of sources. Children’s content provides a large quantity of that revenue. Drastically reducing the amount of money coming in will threaten the continued operation of the platform.
That said, this is all dependent on a stable state. It’s very probable that, seeing the issue looming, the FTC and Youtube will work out a system which will allow for things like comments and new childrens’ content notification. It’s unreasonable to think that they will see a problem coming and reject any attempts to avoid it, not when Youtube’s continued operation is at stake and the FTC commissioner risks angering the public.
That’s the news, and it’s significant, and it’s lost amidst the babble of the day for most who are not involved in providing online content.
Now, to my part in this. There have been news stories about Trump ads being taken down over the past few months because they did not meet standards. There have also been people who have noticed a push of Trump-related videos on their feed, as of two weeks ago. A week ago, the two Google founders stepped down from their positions as officially running the company (although they remain on the board.) All of this comes as Republicans have been threatening Google, whose Alphabet umbrella is the owner of Youtube, about perceived bias.
It is very, very easy to construct a scenario from this whereby Youtube has been threatened via the FTC, and they are pushing some Trump content as a positive gesture. It’s also easy to throw the retirements into the mix, as either acceding to a demand from the President’s people or as a refusal to become direct puppets.
The problem with any such scenario is that it’s speculative only, pure conspiracy theory. The “evidence” is in a series of events – some unproven – which, if interpreted in a specific way, cause suspicions to be raised.
This is at the core of many of our problems today. If there is, some day, an investigation by a trustworthy journalist, accredited or not, which exposes such an effort at extortion, I will be ready to believe it. It is in no way worthwhile to simply speculate based on theory, but that’s what many bloggers, including bloggers for erstwhile “news” sites, repeatedly do.
We can do analysis of existing events. We can bring forth reminders of history. We can divine obscure facts and stories and bring them out to a wider audience. But a bare few of us are journalists. Those require the funding and time to conduct investigations and to report on events we witness.
Bloggers and talk show hosts and columnists are all helpful, in their way. But the journalists fulfill a different, related position and they must be retained and respected for a free society. When they are shown to act improperly, it is the fault of the journalist, not journalism as a whole, and to cast them all aside as being liars is to invite ignorance and eventual destruction.