YouTube has certainly had its fair share of press in the past couple of weeks. First, there was hysteria about the “Momo Challenge.” This turned out to be a hoax.
Then, there was the announcement that the platform would be taking action to combat predatory behavior against children in comment threads. This all started with a content creator who identified suspicious comments from questionable users on videos made for or by children. Many of the comments were suggestive or contained links to extremely illegal websites. Worse yet, the same people were abusing the site’s “related videos” algorithm to make it easier to find the links.
The good news is that YouTube immediately did the responsible thing and took action. Ultimately, all of this hardship is spurring on new changes to make the platform safer and more reliable for people (especially minors). This has a direct effect in video marketing and advertising.
The Official Announcement
Changes actually took place over two phases. The first phase was announced on February 22, 2019, on YouTube’s support channel. YouTube made it clear that the video publishers themselves haven’t done anything wrong; it’s the people abusing the system in the comments who are the issue. They found a litany of inappropriate comments directed at children and teens featured in many popular videos.
The platform started by removing thousands of comments. They also terminated offending commenter accounts and channels. To further their efforts, YouTube reported content deemed illegal to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The second update appeared on YouTube’s blog on February 28, 2019. Platform officials announced the decision to completely disable the ability to leave comments on content that features young minors. While needed, this change does significantly impact thousands of businesses who market to children and families.
Will Any Videos with Minors Have Comments?
The act to disable comments was not initially applied to all minors. YouTube’s update is rather vague about the exact ages, but they are initially targeting the change towards videos featuring younger minors as they seem to be more at-risk when it comes to predatory behavior. They will start to look at channels and videos featuring older minors to determine which are more likely to attract predators over the next several months.
YouTube did state that some channels will be allowed to keep their comment features turned on. These creators will be subject to close scrutiny and have to take a very active role when it comes to moderating comments on their videos. They are also continuing to work towards developing stronger comment moderation tools and classifiers.
Why This Is Important to Marketers
YouTube recognizes the fact that creators use comments to maintain regular levels of engagement with their followers. Some creators fear they will not be able to maintain their viewership if they can’t engage. On the other hand, the fact that comments are disabled on a channel does not mean the creators can no longer monetize their videos. People who qualify for monetization won’t see any changes in that regard.
YouTube is definitely feeling a monetary pinch on a corporate level, though. A lot of the most recent controversy began when YouTuber, MattsWhatItIs, released a 20-minute video, “Youtube is Facilitating the Sexual Exploitation of Children, and it’s Being Monetized.” Matt describes a “wormhole” that allowed pedophiles to use the algorithms to leave links to child pornography in the comment sections of different videos while also connecting privately and sharing secret links.
He also presented what he believed to be evidence that the soft-core content being shared on YouTube is also being monetized. As a result, major advertisers like Epic Games and Walt Disney, among others, paused their ad spends on the platform.
The Issue for Marketers
The issue here, from a marketing perspective, is two-fold. There are marketers with YouTube channels of their own, looking to promote content, but there are also marketers paying Google to have their ads featured in various locations throughout the site itself. The problem is that neither the creators nor the advertisers have any control over where the ads end up. It’s all up to Google and YouTube’s algorithms.
While an ad might meet Google’s guidelines, it might be awkward for a piece about an adult product to play before a video intended for a less mature audience, even if the channel is following all of YouTube’s terms of service. There is also a fear that an advertisement could inadvertently end up showing in the middle of a video that is predatory or that contains some other form of illicit content. This is harder to detect if the videos themselves are unlisted or secret.
This leaves brands concerned about the safety of their own reputations. When people see an ad embedded in a questionable video, they almost immediately assume the brand is associated with the content. As a result, they are demanding ad platforms make a more concentrated effort to streamline the visibility of their ad content.
What You Can Do
The majority of business owners and brands using YouTube to advertise or monetize won’t have a lot of trouble working within the terms of service. Those who feature products geared towards children may need to get a little more creative about their video marketing efforts in the coming months, focusing a lot less on featuring young children and more on the products themselves.
At this point, it’s difficult to tell exactly how YouTube will treat the channels of local or larger brands as opposed to those that feature children in craft, toy review, and other entrepreneurial channels. It initially seems as though these may be among the channels that are able to keep comments enabled with higher levels of monitoring.
If you are an advertiser, you’ll want to contact your account representative to find out what Google is doing to make sure your ads are showing on videos that are deemed appropriate and safe for your brand. We’re not saying you need to run out and suspend the advertising campaigns that are working for you (in fact, that’s the wrong move altogether in most cases) but we do highly recommend you monitor the placement of your hard-earned ad dollars.
There is absolutely no doubt that the safety of children should be the number one priority of everyone operating in the online sphere. App developers, social media platforms, and everyone with a hand in the creation of technology has a responsibility to make sure what is put out for consumption is not only safe for children to see, but also combats predatory behavior.
At Sachs Marketing Group, we can help you navigate this difficult sphere and market your videos effectively. We also specialize in reputation management if you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’re being unfairly associated with a platform’s mistakes. Reach out to us today!