YouTube Kids ‘a vapid wasteland’, say US lawmakers

A US government committee has described YouTube Kids as a “wasteland of vapid, consumerist content”.

In a letter to YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, the US sub-committee on economic and consumer policy said the platform was full of “inappropriate… highly commercial content”.

Google launched YouTube Kids in 2015 as a safe place for children to view appropriate content.

YouTube said it had worked hard to provide “enriching content for kids”.

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said: “Over the last few years, we’ve worked hard to provide kids and families with protections and controls that enable them to view age-appropriate content. 

“We’ve made significant investments in the YouTube Kids app to make it safer, and to serve more educational and enriching content for kids, based on principles developed with experts and parents. 

“Additionally, on YouTube, we do not serve personalised ads alongside ‘made for kids’ content, and apply additional protections to ensure we’re recommending age-appropriate content for kids and families.”

‘Hidden marketing’

In 2019, Google agreed to pay $170m (£124m) in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for collecting and selling children’s data without parental consent. YouTube committed to privacy protections for children and the removal of personalised ads.

According to the letter, some videos appeared to be “smuggling in hidden marketing and advertising with product placements by children’s influencers”.

The letter claimed that one research team, which it did not name, found only about 4% of videos had a high educational value. Much of the rest was low quality content such as toy unboxing and videos of people playing video games.

It also said that one mother had reported a video that contained advice on how to commit suicide. After the video was reported, the letter alleges YouTube failed to remove it for eight months.

The letter asked YouTube to supply a host of documents, including:

  • information about the top 200 channels and how much time on average children spent watching them
  • a detailed explanation of how paid ads are selected for display to children
  • an explanation of how the recommendation algorithm determines which videos to promote to children
  • number of videos removed because they were inappropriate from 2016 to 2020
  • number of channels or creators blocked during the same timeframe

Streamer xQc knocked offline over unpaid electricity bill

Famous Twitch streamer xQc was knocked offline during a live broadcast because he forgot to pay his electricity bill.

Felix Lengyel – to use the streamer’s real name – is a former pro esports player and one of the biggest game streaming stars on earth.

After his stream abruptly ended, he tweeted: “Forgot to pay the electricity bill.”

Lengyel is reported to be a millionaire thanks to his huge audiences on Twitch and YouTube.

But he told his followers his electricity being cut off was not a sign of any financial crisis.

“Power went down, stream did too. Will be back on later today or tomorrow,” he told fans.

“Autopay was on but my credit card limit is the same I had when I was 12 so sometimes it’s empty and payment can’t go through.

“Just Canadian bank stuff, move along.” View original tweet on Twitter

True to his word, he resumed streaming hours later – electricity apparently having been sorted. It also affected his room-mate and fellow streamer Adept.

xQc made headlines in 2018 when he was suspended from his professional sports team in the Overwatch League, for using a homophobic slur on his personal livestream – something which the League decided broke its professional code of conduct.

He was fined $2,000 and banned for four matches. 

Now aged 25, Lengyel is signed to esports group Luminosity, but streams on a daily basis as a full-time career.

His Twitch channel has more than eight million followers, and individual videos rack up hundreds of thousands of views. That success is supplemented by a strong YouTube presence, where he has one and a half million subscribers.

YouTube drug-taking, sweary rap ad banned by ASA

An advert for a single by rapper Bamby H2O which featured illegal drug use was “irresponsible” and must not appear again, the Advertising Standards Authority has said.

The music video shows the rapper dancing with a woman and money
image captionThe music video shows the rapper dancing with a woman and money

The video, posted on YouTube, used expletives “likely to seriously offend” and was “gratuitous and objectified women”, the ASA said.

According to YouTube, it removed the ad before the ASA ruling.

Bamby H2O did not respond to the ASA or the BBC.

In a statement, YouTube told the BBC: “YouTube ads should be safe and relevant, and we have strict policies against inappropriate, adult and dangerous content that we enforce vigorously. 

“We also have a tool where anyone can report these ads, and these complaints are reviewed by our team.

“In 2020, we removed 3.1 billion bad ads from our platforms and we continue to be strongly committed to a safe and healthy ad ecosystem.”

Screenshot from the music video
image captionThe music video advert showed a woman removing her clothes

The full-length music video remains on its channel but now carries a warning saying it “may be inappropriate for some users”.

In its judgement, the ASA described the ad as “a full-length rap music video” which appeared before an unrelated music playlist on YouTube. 

“It featured a number of scenes depicting the consumption of illegal drugs, including a bottle of amphetamine tablets and a powder consumed through a rolled-up bank note,” the ASA judgement noted.

It concluded: “We considered that the ad, which featured illegal drugs and drug-use was irresponsible for depicting the use of drugs in this context.

“The ad also featured the outline of a woman exposing her breasts which we considered was gratuitous and objectified women.”

It also said Bamby H2O must ensure any future ads “did not cause serious or widespread offence”.

YouTube will recommend products shown in videos

YouTube will detect items shown in videos and generate a list of related products to buy.

Automated suggestions will appear as viewers scroll on the platform.

The technology will allow users to identify products that appear in the video and search for related content on the video site.

The feature is currently being tested on some users in the US only – but experts say it could bring “huge” change to the advertising industry.

“We are experimenting with a new feature that displays a list of products detected in some videos, as well as related products,” YouTube said

“The goal is to help people explore more videos and information about those products on YouTube.”

An image of what the feature could look like from a YouTube blog post this year
image captionAn image of what the feature could look like, from a YouTube blog post this year

With a “top-10 smartphones in 2020” video, for example, “some viewers will see an icon on the video, along with more information below, listing the phone models included in the video”.

“From there, viewers can explore each product’s page to see more information, related videos, and purchase options for that product,” YouTube added.

It began testing the Products in this Video feature in April last year. 

The auto-detection will also recommend videos by other creators on the platform that feature the products.

“The YouTube algorithm already does a fairly solid job of auto-detecting just what content you’ve been watching and serving up related videos – but this feels more aimed toward the kind of content that people watch as pre-research before making a purchase,” technology news website 9to5google said. 

‘End of advertising’

Brand designer Studio LWD founder Laura Weldon said: “This could be huge, giving [YouTube owner] Google a large piece of the affiliate-link market that works so well on Instagram and could potentially put them in the same shopping space.

“It will also mean that videos can be easily commercialised, which gives huge potential for small businesses as they can easily upload various videos of their products and then the viewer can buy.

“If this takes off, it could possibly signal the end of traditional advertising as we know it.”

Beauty communications agency Seen Group strategy director Natasha Hulme said: “Beauty consumers looking for product reviews and advice use YouTube like a search engine as well as for entertainment.

“This new feature could make it easier for beauty buyers to find products being recommended by beauty creators and make it less likely that products will get missed in content.”

And the technology could extend beyond reviews to more creative applications, for example finding out the make-up used in a music video, she suggested.

By Cristina Criddle
Technology reporter

YouTuber David Dobrik quits app after rape video claim

By Cristina Criddle
Technology reporter

YouTube star David Dobrik has stepped down from an app he co-founded, following a rape allegation about a former video contributor.

One woman who appeared in a video on Mr Dobrik’s channel says she was raped by another person involved during filming.

Mr Dobrik, who has almost 19 million subscribers on the platform, denies any wrongdoing.

But the claim has led brands and investors to “sever ties” with the influencer.

Mr Dobrik rose to fame through prank videos, sometimes in collaboration with a number of other YouTubers called the Vlog Squad.

During the coronavirus pandemic, he stepped back from posting regularly on YouTube, in order to launch his own photo app Dispo.

A recent investigation published by Kate Tenbarge at the business news website Insider, detailed the woman’s account of rape in 2018 by a – now former – Vlog Squad member.

‘Sever all ties’

Since the claims, support for the app and Mr Dobrik has collapsed.

Venture capital firm and a leading investor in the app, Spark Capital, announced it would “sever all ties” with the company. View original tweet on Twitter

Mr Dobrik then announced he would step down from the board of Dispo “to not distract from the company’s growth,” the Information news site reported. 

As a YouTube influencer, Mr Dobrik made millions of dollars through sponsorship deals.

Hello Fresh, EA Sports and HBO Max are among brands to have dropped him.

The allegations

In the account, published in Insider, a woman alleged she was raped during the filming of a Vlog Squad video in 2018.

She reportedly says she was given alcohol despite being under the legal age of 21, and became drunk to the point of unconsciousness.

Later, she said she was involved in group sex which included a Vlog Squad member, when she was too intoxicated to consent.

The video was published on Mr Dobrik’s channel, and later removed.

“While our client is appalled by any misconduct attributed to [the former member of the Vlog Squad], assuming it is true, my client denies any wrongdoing,” Mr Dobrik’s lawyer told Insider.

“Consent is something that’s super, super-important to me,” Mr Dobrik added via a recent video posted to one of his YouTube channels,

“Whether I am shooting with a friend, or I am shooting with a stranger, I make sure whatever video I am putting out, I have the approval from that person.”

The accused former Vlog Squad member has not responded to requests for comment.

Police were not informed and no charges were filed against the alleged perpetrator, Insider said.

YouTube: Voice of Wales channel accused of racism

A Welsh YouTube channel has been labelled “racist” and accused of expressing “foul” and “unacceptable” language and ideas.

Videos featuring the group have been removed by YouTube, with advertising prevented on others.

Voice of Wales said it gave a voice to people who were not represented by the mainstream media.

The channel began broadcasting on YouTube in July last year.

Several politicians and parties have slammed Voice of Wales’ activities, following an investigation by BBC Wales’ Newyddionprogramme.

Fronted by Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson, the Voice of Wales channel now has more than 5,000 subscribers and has registered more than 350,000 views.

Guests on the channel have included members of the Proud Boys group, a far-right organisation which is active in the United States and Canada.

The Proud Boys have been banned by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and outlawed completely in Canada, where the government has deemed them a terrorist group.

They have also appeared in discussions with controversial characters such as Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson – both of whom have been permanently banned by Twitter for breaching hateful conduct guidelines.

Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson during a Voice of Wales broadcast with guest Katie Hopkins
image captionKatie Hopkins has featured as a guest on the Voice of Wales channel

Concerns have also been raised that prominent Welsh politicians have participated in discussions on the channel – including UKIP’s only Member of the Senedd Neil Hamilton and former Conservative election candidate Felix Aubel.

Voice of Wales has also been present at controversial protests – broadcasting apparently favourable coverage from outside Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium as activists aimed to disrupt players taking a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as during clashes between police and demonstrators in Pembrokeshire opposing the housing of asylum seekers at a former military training base.

Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson at a protest outside Swansea City's Liberty Stadium
image captionVoice of Wales has attended protests, including outside Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium

Concern has also been expressed about the language used by Mr Morgan and Mr Robinson, who are both members of UKIP.

They include remarks by Mr Robinson, who said: “If I wanted to imbibe all things India I would get on a jet and go to India. I don’t want it on my doorstep.”

In another video, on seeing posters of black individuals in the window of the Arts Council of Wales building during a live broadcast, Mr Morgan said: “What is this building? You’re not going to believe this.

“It’s actually the Arts Council of Wales… Because we all know that’s what Wales is going to become… African Arts council of Wales. 

“Did it say that? No. But it should have.”

Dan Morgan outside the Arts Council of Wales
image captionConcern has been expressed about remarks by Dan Morgan broadcast outside the Arts Council of Wales

A county councillor also said he was subjected to harassment by Voice of Wales after he opposed its supporters’ presence at protests against housing asylum seekers at a former military training base in Pembrokeshire. 

This harassment included an allegation, which he said was totally false, that he shared a sexual video of an underage schoolgirl.

Despite freedom of speech being one of the cornerstones of democracy, the three main political parties in Wales have voiced concern about the language and ideas shared by Voice of Wales. 

‘They try and create splits in our society’

Nia Griffith
image captionShadow Secretary of State for Wales Nia Griffith said the group was “very dangerous”

Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Nia Griffith, said the channel was “very dangerous” and provoked “hate and racism”.

“They try and create splits in our society. We must take it seriously and see if there’s a way of lessening their influence.” 

‘Completely unacceptable’

The Welsh Conservatives also rejected Voice of Wales’ activities, saying: “Robust political debate, including disagreement, is one thing, but the kind of language used on the YouTube channel by the members and supporters of this organisation is completely unacceptable to – thankfully – the vast majority of Britons and those of other nationalities living in a modern, dynamic, and diverse United Kingdom.

“People of all parties will reject the foul ideas and words used by members of this organisation, and anyone else who bases their prejudices and political ideology on where a person comes from, their nationality, ethnicity, or belief.”

Having described Voice of Wales as an “excellent truth-seeking news channel” in a Twitter post, Mr Aubel said he did not necessarily agree with all content they broadcasted, but said the men had a right to freedom of speech.

‘Baseless smears’

When asked to respond about their members’ involvement with Voice of Wales, UKIP said: “This looks to us like an attempt by the BBC to shut down competition in Wales by using baseless smears that we have all become accustomed to over the years such as ‘extremist’ to discredit other outlets.

“UKIP unambiguously stands with the majority of people in Wales who understand that mob-like movements such as Black Lives Matter serve only to cause further division and stoke racial tensions in our society. 

“We see nothing wrong with fans expressing their disgust at their sports team ‘taking the knee’ in support of a violent group.”

Adam Price
image captionPlaid Cymru leader Adam Price asks those enabling the group: “What are your politics but that of the extreme right wing?”

But Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price rejected their claims: “The mask is slipping.

“With UKIP and anyone else who are enabling this group. Anyone who is helping them and co-operating with them, we must ask them too – what are your politics but that of the extreme right wing?”

Voice of Wales said: “[We] have hosted politicians from across the political spectrum including the former advisor to the Mayor of London and Respect Party candidate, Lee Jasper (whose Twitter account is currently suspended for violation) and Katie Hopkins. 

“We also operate an open invitation to BLM, antifa, SWP [Socialist Worker Party], councillors, AMs and ministers we have named on our programmes.”

Denying allegations of racism, it said free speech included “the right to offend and, of course, to be offended”.

After being approached to respond to concerns about Voice of Wales by Newyddion, YouTube removed three videos completely and removed the ability to show adverts on a further six.

A spokesman said: “YouTube’s community guidelines prohibits hate speech and we remove flagged videos and comments that violate these policies.”

By Gwyn Loader

YouTube suspends Donald Trump’s channel

YouTube has become the latest social network to suspend President Trump.

The Google-owned service has prevented his account from uploading new videos or live-streaming material for a minimum of seven days, and has said it may extend the period.

The firm said the channel had broken its rules over the incitement of violence.

The president had posted several videos on Tuesday night, some of which remain online.

Google has not provided details of what Mr Trump said in the video it banned, however the BBC has discovered it was a clip from a press conference he had given on Tuesday.

The move came hours after civil rights groups had threatened to organise an ads boycott against YouTube.

YouTube channel
image captionPresident Trump’s YouTube channel remains live but he cannot post new videos

Jim Steyer – who previously helped coordinate similar action against Facebook last year – had called on Google to go further and take the president’s channel offline.

“We hope they will make it permanent. It is disappointing that it took a Trump-incited attack to get here, but appears that the major platforms are finally beginning to step up,” he tweeted after the suspension.YouTube suspends Donald Trump’s channel

Google said that Mr Trump could still face his page being closed if he falls foul of its three-strikes policy.

“After review, and in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to Donald J Trump’s channel for violating our policies,” it said in a statement.

“It now has its first strike and is temporarily prevented from uploading new content for a minimum of seven days.

“Given the ongoing concerns about violence, we will also be indefinitely disabling comments on President Trump’s channel, as we’ve done to other channels where there are safety concerns found in the comments section.”

Meanwhile, Apple chief Tim Cook told CBS News that those involved with the riots on the US Capitol last week should be held accountable.

“Everyone that had a part in it needs to be held accountable. I think no one is above the law. We’re a rule of law country.”

He did not mention President Trump by name, but added: “I don’t think we should let it go. This is something we’ve got to be serious about.”

Tech bans

Mr Trump had already been suspended by Facebook and Instagram following last week’s rioting on Capitol Hill, until at least the transition of power to Joe Biden on 20 January.

Twitter has gone further by imposing a permanent ban.

Amazon’s Twitch has also disabled his account on its platform. And Snapchat has locked his account.

Shopify, Pinterest, TikTok and Reddit have also taken steps to restrict content associated with the president and his calls for the results of the US election to be challenged.

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

YouTube has often been behind its social media rivals when it comes to moderating user-posted content.

Over the years it has come under fire from campaign groups and big advertisers for not acting swiftly. 

Now it has followed Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat in restricting Donald Trump’s access to its platform. 

And as so often, there’s a lack of transparency about exactly what prompted the President’s suspension. 

It’s only saying that a video violated its policies on incitement to violence, but is indicating that the issue was the President’s remarks to reporters on Tuesday where he refused to take responsibility for the attack on Congress.

Of course, those comments were broadcast on TV channels, including the BBC, and are still widely available. 

It’s not long ago that the social media landscape was being described as the Wild West when it came to moderating content – now the platforms suddenly seem eager to appear more cautious than the mainstream media.

It’s amazing what the threat of regulation can do.

TalkRadio: YouTube reverses decision to ban channel

YouTube has reinstated TalkRadio’s channel on its platform hours after saying it had been “terminated” for breaking the tech firm’s rules.

It said the broadcaster had posted material that contradicted expert advice about the coronavirus pandemic.

But it explained its U-turn saying it sometimes made exceptions to guidelines that state repeat offenders face a permanent ban.

TalkRadio said it had yet to be given a full explanation for the affair.

The decision to ban TalkRadio had appalled digital rights campaigners, with one group – Big Brother Watch – claiming it was evidence that “big tech censorship is spiralling out of control”.

The Google-owned service has issued a brief statement explaining its actions.

“TalkRadio’s YouTube channel was briefly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated,” it said.

“We quickly remove flagged content that violate our community guidelines, including Covid-19 content that explicitly contradict expert consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organization. We make exceptions for material posted with an educational, documentary, scientific or artistic purpose, as was deemed in this case.”

Three strikes

YouTube has not published details of the offending posts.

But independent fact-checkers have repeatedly challenged some of the claims made by interviewees featured by the London-based radio station.

YouTube operates a “three strikes” policy, whereby channels that break its community guidelines three times within a 90-day period can be permanently banned, but other infractions lead to temporary restrictions.

Prohibited content includes “medically unsubstantiated claims” relating to Covid-19, and videos that contradict expert consensus from local health authorities such as the NHS.

“YouTube is making decisions about which opinions the public are allowed to hear, even when they are sourced to responsible and regulated new providers,” TalkRadio said in a statement this evening.

“This sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate.”

The broadcaster tweeted the statement minutes after YouTube’s change of heart. It did not appear to be aware that its channel had been reinstated at the time, but has since acknowledged the move.

Covid bans

TalkRadio has about 424,000 listeners, according to the latest figures from market research provider Rajar.

It uses YouTube as a means to livestream shows from its studios and to provide an archive of past broadcasts. 

Its channel on the platform has 242,000 subscribers.

YouTube’s action had meant that TalkRadio’s website had featured articles featuring broken embedded clips for most of the day, and that users who had shared its clips would have been unable to view them.

The US firm has previously imposed a permanent ban against conspiracy theorist David Icke, and a one-week video suspension of right-wing outlet One America News Network’s ability to publish new clips – in both cases for breaches of its Covid rules.

YouTube adds ads but won’t pay all content-makers

YouTube says it will start showing adverts on more videos – but won’t necessarily pay the video-maker a cut.

The company currently shares ad revenue with video-makers who are enrolled in its partnership scheme, when it shows ads before or during their content.

But YouTube says it will start putting ads on some videos from channels that are not part of its partnership scheme.

Changes to its terms of service mean YouTube will not share the revenue from those ads with the video-makers.

It could also mean viewers see a higher number of adverts across the site.

YouTube’s Partner Programme is something that has to be applied for, and is only available to channels that have more than 1,000 subscribers and have clocked up 4,000 hours of people watching in a year.

YouTube said channels not in the programme would not “receive a share of the revenue from these ads” though the makers would have the opportunity to apply for YPP as normal if they met the eligibility requirements.

But YouTube’s own explanation of the application process says applications are put in a queue to be reviewed by humans, which can take more than a month.

“This could mean that a smaller creator who isn’t part of the programme gains viral success without receiving any ad revenue from it,” said journalist and author Chris Stokel-Walker.

While a creator might be able to spin that success into other income – such as sponsorships and appearances – the decision seems strange, he said.

“YouTube’s already making inordinately large amounts of money,” he explained.

“It’s another policy change that seems likely to rankle with ordinary creators, who have often felt aggrieved that YouTube capitalises on their content without properly compensating them – or recognising their contribution to the success of the platform.”

‘More ads’

That seems to be the case online. Some YouTubers have accused the company of moving the goalposts on its ad policies. Others suggested that putting ads on all videos, regardless of earning potential, may be an attempt to push viewers to pay for YouTube’s £11.99 a month ad-free premium product.

“Seems like a hard push to force more ads on users,” one user on the help forum wrote. “May have some negative effects, especially for users who can’t afford to pay for YT premium service.”

Another added: “There is simply no other way to view this than YouTube telling its creator base that they’re happy to make money off the back of work that certain creators aren’t seeing a penny for themselves.”

The changes are being rolled out in the United States, with YouTube saying the new terms will “become available” for creators elsewhere next year.

But despite the backlash, Stokel-Walker said the site was unlikely to change its mind.

“The sheer number of creators trying to become popular on YouTube means there’s always someone else willing to replace an unhappy creator who wants out,” he said.