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YouTube to update harassment and gaming policies, clarify changes to kids content

Sarah Perez

In YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki's quarterly letter, released today, the exec addresses a number of changes to YouTube policies, including the recent FTC-mandated rules for kids' content that have alternately confused and infuriated video creators, as well as forthcoming policies around harassment and gaming videos, among other things.

On the latter, Wojcicki said the company was now in the process of developing a new harassment policy and was talking to creators about what needed to be addressed. She did not give an ETA for the rollout, but said creators would be posted when the changes were finalized.

YouTube also responded to creator concerns over policies around gaming videos that include violence.

"We’ve heard loud and clear that our policies need to differentiate between real-world violence and gaming violence," Wojcicki said. "We have a policy update coming soon that will do just that. The new policy will have fewer restrictions for violence in gaming, but maintain our high bar to protect audiences from real-world violence."

This topic was recently discussed at YouTube's Gaming Creator Summit, as well.

The company also said it's now working to match edgier content with advertisers that may be interested in it -- like a marketer who wants to promote an R-rated movie, for example.

The letter briefly addressed the creator uproar over kids' content, with promises of more clarity.

In September, YouTube reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over its violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which required it to pay a $170 million fine and set into place a series of new rules for creators to comply with. These rules require creators to mark videos that are directed at kids (or entire channels, if need be.). This, in turn, will limit data collection, put an end to personalized ads on kids' content, disable comments and reduce their revenues, creators say.

Creators will also lose out on a number of key YouTube features, The Verge recently reported, including click-through info cards, end screens, notification functions and the community tab.

YouTube creators say they don't have enough clarity around where to draw the line between content that's made for kids and content that may attract kids. For example, family vlog channels and some gaming videos may appeal to kids and adults alike. And if the FTC decides a creator is in violation, they can be held liable for future COPPA violations now that YouTube's new policy and content labeling system is in place. YouTube's advice to creators on how to proceed? Consult a lawyer, it has said.

In today's letter, Wojcicki acknowledges the fallout of these changes, but doesn't offer any further clarity -- only promises of updates to come.

"We know there are still many questions about how this is going to affect creators and we’ll provide updates as possible along the way," Wojcicki said.

She also points to a long thread on the YouTube Community forum where many questions about the system are being answered -- like the policy's reach, what's changing, how and when to mark content as being for kids or not and more. The forum's Q&A also addressed some of the questions that keep coming up about all-ages content, including some example scenarios. Creators, of course, have read through these materials and say they still don't understand how to figure out if their video is for kids or not. (And clearly, they don't want to err on the side of caution at the risk of reduced income.)

The being said, the rise of a kid-friendly YouTube has had a range of negative consequences. YouTube had to shut down comments after finding a ring of child predators on videos with kids, for instance. Parents roped in their kids to the "family business" before the children even knew what being public on the internet meant. Some young stars have been put to work more than should be legal due to the lack of child labor laws for online content. There's even been child abuse at the hands of the parents. Children watching the videos, meanwhile, were being marketed to without their understanding, addicted to consumerism by toy unboxings and playtime videos, and targeted with personalized ads. Kid YouTube was overdue for a reining in.

The letter addresses a few other key issues, as well, including the launch of the new Creator Studio and the latest on the EU's copyright directive Article 17, which is now being translated into local law. Wojcicki cheers some of the changes to the policy, including the one that secures liability protections when YouTube makes its best efforts to match copyright material with rights owners.

And Wojcicki addresses the growing concerns over creator burnout, by reminding video creators to take a break and practice self-care -- adding that it won't harm their business by doing so. In fact, YouTube scoured its data from the past six years and found that, on average, channels both large and small had more views when they returned than they had right before they left.

"If you need to take some time off, your fans will understand," she said.