YouTube Updates Cyberbullying Policy

ThirdParent YoutubeGood news and bad news for YouTube users – especially young users. The video network has updated its harassment and cyberbullying guidelines, and they are much more strict than the previous version.

The good news here is that it’s time for YouTube to take a tougher stand. Cyberbullying is more prevalent on YouTube than most parents realize, in our experience, and exists in two forms: cyberbullying in the comments section, which is rampant, and original videos that call out an individual in a less than kind way. The latter type of video certainly exists, but the rules seem like they will be awkward to implement fairly since there is a fine line between satire (which society mostly tolerates) and harassment or cyberbullying.

The new rules, in their entirety:

Harassment may include:

  • Abusive videos, comments, messages

  • Revealing someone’s personal information

  • Maliciously recording someone without their consent

  • Deliberately posting content in order to humiliate someone

  • Making hurtful and negative comments/videos about another person

  • Unwanted sexualization, which encompasses sexual harassment or sexual bullying in any form

  • Incitement to harass other users or creators

The bad part of this change is that some satirical accounts are already having videos deleted. In one example, YouTuber RiceGum posted a video for his 2.3 million followers in which he criticized the Instagram account of a 10-year old girl, the daughter of a rock star. In the video, he said:

“[she] wears “quite a bit of makeup for her age,” and sarcastically claims, “Wow, they grow up so fast, already learning how to, you know, arch their back a little bit, kinda, you know, poke out the behind area.” The comedian also notes that Instagram’s Terms of Use state that one must be at least 13 years old to have an account.”

That video has been removed.

We are all for social networks policing cyberbullying, but we hope that YouTube can do a good job responding to genuine harassment without stifling too much comedy or creativity.

 

 

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YouTube Kids Has a Problem With Ads

If your child is young enough that YouTube Kids is a good, safer alternative to plain old YouTube, does that mean that she might not be old enough to understand the difference between advertising and youtube-kidsregular content? Some groups think that’s so, and are making their opinion heard.

Before we jump on the bandwagon criticizing YouTube Kids for targeting youngsters with ads, let us first say that YouTube Kids has solved most of the big problems for kids presented by YouTube:

  • YouTube’s age limit is 13, so kids can’t legally join, and YouTube’s rules don’t include safeguards appropriate for kids
  • There are no comments allowed, so the risk of cyberbullying is zero
  • Children who download the app do not create an “account” or have an identity, so there is no predator risk
  • The hand picked content is safe for kids, in that it contains no adult content such as mature themes or coarse language
  • Kids can’t upload their own content, so they won’t be prone to attracting creepers

At issue today is a different thing entirely. A coalition of child advocacy groups, including the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, are planning to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission today, arguing that Google’s YouTube Kids is unfairly targeting kids with advertising. The group goes as far as calling the content “hyper-commercialized media”.

YouTube Kids launched in February, and is rated 4+ (intended for kids older than 4) – my 7-year old likes it. The Android store alone indicates that the app has been downloaded between 1 and 5 million times, so when you add in iPhones and iPads, we’ll assume that the app has between 5 and 15 million users. That’s a big number of 5 – 10 year old kids.

youtube-kids-kinderWe agree that much of the content on YouTube Kids is thinly veiled advertising – product placements and promotions that are instead labeled as entertainment or educational videos. For example, “Learning Sizes with Surprise Eggs!” teaches a little about sizes, and a lot about Kinder chocolate eggs with toys inside. Kids will want those eggs.

To be clear, though, while we are hopeful that YouTube Kids will do a better job of labeling and limiting the advertising, we think that it is a welcome addition to the under 13 app community, and hope that it isn’t disrupted too much.

There are lots of worse places for kids online than YouTube Kids.

 

 

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Offensive U. of Oklahoma Frat Video Hits YouTube

Warning: extremely offensive content below.

Over the weekend, news broke that members of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma are under fire after an extremely crude racist chant was caught on film and posted to YouTube.

 

According to the Huffington Post, the national presidents of the fraternity was quoted as saying:

“If OU students are involved, this behavior will not be tolerated and will be addressed very quickly. If the reports are true the chapter will no longer remain on campus. This behavior is reprehensible and contrary to all of our values.”

Racist comments – even those made in jest, are bad form and in bad taste. It appears that the video was shot on a party bus, so one might assume that whoever took the video was a member of the fraternity, or affiliated with them in some way. Whoever thought it was a good idea to post this to YouTube really needs to question what they were thinking.

Most in-jest social media posts go unnoticed, even those in extremely poor taste, but this one had no shot at flying under the radar. These students are sorely in need of some empathy training immediately, and digital citizenship training right after that.

 

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YouTube Kids Launches Today

Google has a fundamental problem with kids, or an opportunity depending on how you look at it. At the problem’s center is the fact that in order for Google to effectively serve ads to users of its product, the more information it has on that user, the better. Better ads men that advertisers on balance will pay more for those ads, as they are reaching a highly targeted audience.

YouTube-logoGoogle, however, can’t legally collect personal information from kids under 13 without their parents’ consent, as dictated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Parental consent is a messy thing – parents can and do say no – which means that some would-be users of your product won’t be using it.

The workaround for Google to date has been a very inelegant game of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Everyone knows that kids under 13 use YouTube, Google’s video hosting property. We’d guess that it’s not only the most widely used social network by the under 13 crowd, it’s probably the most widely used web property, period. Google has effectively gotten around COPPA by either not asking for user’s age (you can watch YouTube videos without having a YouTube account), or by not verifying the age when a user opens an account.

We aren’t taking Google alone to task here; only a small number of websites and social networks have an effective means for verifying the age of users. The industry standard is for users to be whatever age they happen to say at signup. If that sounds like a flawed system, it is.

Google is partially solving the problem today by launching YouTube Kids, a free under-13 version of YouTube, and has communicated to the press that both the video content and the ads will be age-appropriate.

If Google does a good job screening which videos are in fact safe for kids, and has a way of keeping the comment section clean, it will indeed by a good, safer option for kids. Some early reports claim that comments won’t be allowed. We checked the Google Play store and YouTube Kids is not available as of this writing.

We say “partial” solution because after the launch of YouTube Kids (today for Android phones and tablets, in the near future for iOS), adult YouTube will still be thriving, and as easy for kids to use as ever.

Lots more work to do in this area.

 

 

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BatteryPOP – Kids’ Video Network Balances Quality and Safety

It’s one thing to create a kids’ video site that is totally safe and free from cyberbullying; it’s another to create one that has compelling content where pre teens actually want to go. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Greg Alkalay, the CEO of batteryPOP, a site which launched late last year and has set out to do just that.

batterypop-sq-logoConsider the prime alternative. Online video is hot, and YouTube acts like an irresistible magnet for kids. While YouTube was not specifically created for kids, parents’ reaction varies. Some ignore the risks, and others, though in smaller numbers, try to limit kids’ access.

With YouTube, the risks for young kids are numerous. Not only are there countless adult-oriented videos on the site, but the comments section under many videos frequently are a host to cyberbullying, harassment and extremely coarse adult language. In the worst case scenario, if your child has connected his YouTube account to his Gmail account, he could be opening himself up to some real life creepers.

BatteryPOP should serve as a welcome alternative for parents.

In terms of creating a site with content that kids are truly interested in, battery POP is definitely on the right track. The site is targeted at the 6 – 11 year-old demographic, and I can tell you that I introduced my 7-year-old daughter to it this week and she was quite happy and engaged.

CEO Alkalay is coming off a 12-year stint as a content pro at Nickelodeon, and made the move to start batteryPOP after coming to the undeniable conclusion that TV is losing young viewers to the web, but a truly kid-safe video platform was lacking. In Alkalay’s words, the challenge was to “Only put up kid-friendly content.”

The site’s video content is 100% sourced from professional child video creators, and includes cartoons, kids’ music videos, blogs for kids, and kid-friendly video game walkthroughs. Before content is selected, it is reviewed start to finish by the battryPOP team before being posted to the site. The problems of kids, either mistakenly or on purpose watching adult content is solved from the get go.

In terms of privacy and protecting kids from cyberbullying and the like, BatteryPOP’s child safety features are among the best that we’ve seen:

  • No real names or profile pictures are used – each child picks a screen name, which is a combination of an adjective and a noun, and an avatar
  • The child’s email address and birth date are not collected
  • Kids can upvote or share videos, but cannot comment on them as a defense against cyberbullying
  • Users can follow other users and become “friends”, but they can’t message each other

According to Alkalay’s partner Taso Mastorakis, “batteryPOP is an online entertainment destination everyone in the family can feel good about.” It does a good job of that in our opinion.

 

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Do Your Kids Trust the Internet Too Much?

I was having lunch with my boys yesterday and a funny thing happened. I started to question whether young people are at risk of putting too much trust in what they see online, and specifically the search results that Google serves up.

It was a scene that plays out over and over again in our connected society. I asked my older boy, who is 16 and a long-time soccer player, if he had seen the Robin Van Persie header yesterday in the game vs. Spain.

Here it is, by the way.

He said that he hadn’t seen it, and I Googled “Van Persie header” on my phone.

The first couple of results for the autocomplete, and the Google search itself, were something like “Van Persie header Arsenal”, which I assumed had happened in a game vs. his former team Arsenal at some point, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Kid one was looking at the search results as I did it, and said, “That was probably a better header.”

Hmm. If it was him searching, he might have stopped right there. There is certainly some value in looking for something and instead finding something else, but it pales in comparison to finding exactly what you’re looking for.

It makes sense to talk to your kids about what they’re seeing online, and making conscious decisions about whether it’s accurate, and actually what they’re looking for. Even information indexed by Google is sometimes false, often misleading and can lead you astray. Searcher beware.

 

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Child YouTube Videos – What’s the Risk?

My daughter wants to be on YouTube. Really, really wants to be on YouTube. Not watching videos, but starring in them.  The problem is that she’s 6 years old.

child youtube videoShe is a moderate YouTube user – mostly Rainbow Loom how-to videos and Katy Perry music – and we have her access pretty well locked down. She uses a family Google account, not her own, Safety Mode search is turned on (preventing her from finding age-inappropriate videos) and comments are hidden. We have had no problems with her YouTube browsing so far.

When she heard recently that one of my teen boys was thinking about making a YouTube video, the idea that it was possible really grabbed her, and she has asked me daily since then if she could make her own (with my help, of course). Her desire to be featured in her own video seems natural enough. It’s a medium she enjoys, she’s into singing, acting and dance, and not in the least bit shy.

So, we’ve ensured that her YouTube browsing is safe. What other factors should we consider when it comes to posting an online video of her?

Predator risk – Even if we do not disclose her full name or location (we won’t) there is a remote chance that a predator will find the video and work hard to try and contact her. Since she does not have her own YouTube account and video comments are hidden, the risk is remote.

Addiction – That is probably too strong a word, but if making videos becomes an all-consuming interest, that will not be healthy, or good for her school work or other activities.

Future embarrassment – Once you put something online, it can be there to stay. There’s a good chance that something she posts proudly at 6 will be something that embarrasses her when she is older.

Narcissism – If she is only posting a video to show off, or to boost her own ego, that is probably not healthy.

Gateway to other behaviors – Deep down, I don’t want her to see at this young age how easy it is to post a video. It could lead her to try posting pictures or video to other sites that I don’t know about or am not monitoring.

There are a couple of interesting positives in this, if we do it. First, if she is making YouTube videos, she is in a pretty good place – making/doing something is better than watching something. Second, computer skills are increasingly important in school and in the work place. The earlier children learn positive online skills, the better prepared they will be for the future.

What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

 

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Is YouTube Safe for 12-Year Olds? 11? 10?

YouTubeYouTube, the giant video site owned by Google, is the most popular social network for tweens. Facebook isn’t. According to a recent study by MediaSmarts, YouTube is listed as the favorite website by children in grades 4 – 6 by a wide margin.

The above statistic is a bit misleading, since many younger users don’t really use it as a network. It works very well as a video hosting and viewing platform even if you aren’t actually using it as a network. The difference is that users (including kids) who use it without actually having an account are not permitted to upload videos, or comment on or Like others’ videos. The problem is that many kids like to upload videos, and many more use the comments section. Not sure what you’re dealing with in your house? If your child has ever uploaded a video or commented on one, she has a YouTube account, and is using it whether you know about it or not.

On the question of whether YouTube used under normal circumstances is safe for kids 12 years old and younger, the answer is no. YouTube is a social network, and as such has risks for younger users similar to those found on other social networks, including adult content, predator risk and cyberbullying.

This, however, need not be the end of the discussion.

The age limit for YouTube in the U.S. is 13 (14 in Spain and Korea, 16 in the Netherlands and 13 in all other countries), but there is a way to allow minors under 13 to watch videos on YouTube safely, and without violating the age limit. Here’s what you need to do:

Shared family account – Even if your child has his or her own Gmail account, a prerequisite for having a YouTube account, we recommend that you establish a shared family Gmail account, use that to establish a new YouTube account, and confine child YouTube use to that computer. In that way, you can command the parental safety controls without having to install added software on children’s computers.

There is another reason why a shared family account is important. Google made a change recently such that if your child comments on a YouTube video, other users can send her a message via her Gmail account, even without being her “friend” on any Google property.

Safety Mode – Now that you as the parent control the YouTube account settings and will see all incoming messages, ensuring that your child is not being exposed to age-inappropriate videos is very easy.  Scroll down to the bottom of any YouTube page and click on the Safety button. Change YouTube Safety Mode to “On” and click save (see below), and you are good to go.

YouTube-Safety-Mode

Note: even if you have enabled Safe Search in Google, you still need to enable Safety Mode in YouTube.

Shared computer in a common area – Even with Safety Mode enabled, Google/YouTube make no guarantee that their video age ratings are 100% accurate. As such, we don’t recommend young users browse YouTube in their bedroom or other private location. Stick to a shared computer in a central room in your house for the most kid friendly results.

Turn off comments – The final step in making YouTube safe for young users is to hide the comments, and you should. Although it is not as bad as it once was, YouTube comments are home to rampant foul language and cyberbullying, especially in some of the types of videos popular with young users. If you are using Chrome or Firefox (you should be if you are concerned with this), there are free add-ons that are quick and easy to install, and enable YouTube users to hide the comments under all videos.

Incidentally, if you encounter a YouTube user who is under 13 and using the site unsafely, you can report the user to the company. YouTube has a good history of taking down accounts of underage users.

It takes some work, but I you are resigned to the fact that your child is going to watch YouTube videos, or want to allow her to do so, there are steps you can take to make it as safe and wholesome as possible.

 

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Teens, Tweens and Webcams – Tips for Staying Safe

A webcam can seem like a pretty harmless thing to an adult. While most new laptops come with one installed, we’d venture a guess that most adults never use them, unless it is to Skype far off family members. When your teen or tween has a webcam, though, a whole new set of risks and worries is introduced, and parents need to be aware.

chatrouletteSpecifically, when communication via the internet moves from text to live video, parents should have a heightened awareness of predator risk, and the increased chance that a minor will make a bad decision with long-lasting consequences.

Some specific areas for parents to focus on are as follows:

Keep it out of the bedroom – As kids grow older, their laptops or tablets tend to move from the kitchen or family room to their bedroom, either with the blessing of parents or without. Especially when the device is equipped with a webcam, parents should make sure the laptop stays in a common area of the home, where parents can keep an eye on what is happening.

Your kids probably know more about it than you do – The idea of filming live video and posting it to a website might seem like a daunting task to a parent. Trust us, kids can figure out how to do it quite easily. If you’re not sure how to start a conversation about safe webcam use, you could start by asking whether your child has filmed any video, and what she has done with it.

Heightened awareness of stranger danger – Of course, “don’t talk to strangers” is still good advice, even online. If your teen or tween is using a webcam, she should under no circumstances engage with strangers.

Clearly define what is appropriate – The rules are up to you. In addition to not communicating with strangers, you might want to prohibit foul language and adult topics, and certainly restrict your teen posting personal information that could lead a predator to your exact location.

Don’t avoid a discussion about sexting – Whether your child is actively dating or not, peer pressure and bad decisions can result in risqué photos or video being sent or posted. Once a video is sent, your child has no control over where it is posted or who else it is sent to.

Have a plan – If your child is sent an inappropriate video, been approached and pressured to send one, or you suspect that she has sent one, you should have a plan for what options are available. If a predator is involved, be prepared to involve the police quickly. If your child has been engaging in risky behavior, you need to get to work.

Keep communicating – Laying the groundwork one time is unfortunately not enough. As your child changes, and cultivates different friends and interests, the urge to post more of different types of videos could be powerful. Revisit the conversation often, and consider what is changing in your teen’s life that could lead to different behavior.

Once your child has a webcam (or smartphone) there is no guarantee that mistakes won’t be made. Parents who are aware of the risks and constantly communicate a positive message to their kids are in the best position to help prevent a problematic or unsafe outcome.

 

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