Do Art Channels Need to be Worried About COPPA?

In a nutshell this is what’s going on. There are laws about what you can and can’t do when advertising to children. One of those laws is called COPPA. For years Youtube claimed that they didn’t allow children under 13 on the platform on their platform so they were exempt. Anyone with half a brain knows that that’s just absurd.

Turns out the FTC, the government organization who enforces those laws has a half a brain and noticed too and they sued Youtube for a whole lot of money. The main thing the FTC was looking at was the collection of data and tracking of children on Youtube’s platform for advertising purposes. That suit was settled out of court for 170 million dollars and as part of that settlement Youtube is now trying to comply with that law.

So as of January 1st 2020 we as content creators have to comply with that law as well. Youtube has given use the tools to mark our videos as for kids or not for kids. I have to be in compliance.

That’s the easy to understand part. Here is the hard to understand part. What the heck does compliance mean?

So am I worried? No… kinda… maybe a little … but no. I reserve the right to be worried in the future.

If you mark your content for kids, it will not receive targeted advertising. If you mark it not for kids it will still get targeting ads.

Targeted ads make waaaaay more money that non targeted. I’ve seen a lot of numbers thrown around so it’s hard to tell how much less but if we’re being conservative 50% - 75% less than target adds, I’ve seen numbers as high as 95% less. There are probably a lot of variables in there but one thing is that this is a big cut.

That’s going to really hurt a lot of creators. Good creators doing good work, I love some of the animated story-time channels out there like Jaiden Animation, Alex Clark, Odd Ones Out. Channels that review toys. I have some collectable lego sets, I have one behind me on my shelf. I’ve watch some channels that talk about those kinds of sets. They are toys but a lot of toys are not meant for kids necessarily but are geared more for the collectables market. Those kinds of channels are going to be hit hard.

It feels like a lot of babies are going to be thrown out with a lot of bathwater here.

I have marked this channel as not for kids. Because it’s not designed for kids, I review tech for creative professionals. Kids usually aren't professionals.

With that said, I have never used foul language, I don’t tell racy jokes I stay away from politics like it’s the plague because it kinda is. That’s how professional act at work usually. So if a kid watched this channel… it’s not kid unfriendly, it’s just safe for work. My daughter watches this, some of her friends watch this. But the reason I do it is because I’ve worked in an office, I know what it’s like to be watching a video and leap for the volume when a creator drops an unexpected f-bomb.

The part that I am a little worried about and will keep my eye on is that my videos contain little cartoons to illustrate points or to tell stories from time to time and the art I draw on camera is pretty cartoony.

Where does that fit into compliance? I have no idea.

I went to the “Determining if your content is made for kids” page and most of these are straight forward: Whether children are your intended or actual audience for the video. Whether the video includes child actors or models. Whether the video includes characters, celebrities, or toys that appeal to children, including animated characters or cartoon figures. Ahhhh… am I good there? I drew Mario in a video, I’ve draw Zelda characters in the background of reviews.

There is a lot of room for interpretation here. This is why I think a lot of content creators are worried. Rightly so. If you are breaking the rules you could face a fine of $42000 per video that is in violation of the law.

I think any rational person would take one look at my videos and know that I’m not trying to compete with sesame street. But that’s the problem, this isn’t being determined by rational people, it’s being determined by computers using algorithms that are scraping our content trying to determine context.

Lets assume Youtube’s algorithm for identifying kids content amazing at what they do and get it right 99% of time. But if I have 200 videos on my channel, being right 99% of the time would still mean 2 violations. that would mean I could get a 84,000 fine?

But it’s not just Youtube doing this, the FTC is going to be doing the same…. Yikes, Google/Youtube is an algorithm company, that’s what they do, they are the best in the world at this. I have no confidence the FTC can do this at all accurately.

And right there is why so many people are freaking out. We have guidelines but they are so broad that it’s very hard to tell what we should be doing. And the stakes of getting it wrong are really high. My life philosophy is: you tell me where the line is and I’ll make sure I don’t go near it. And neither Youtube the FTC has done that. If I got hit with a fine, I would never post a video again… and honestly if I saw another art Youtube get slapped with a fine I would definitely reconsider what I’m doing here.

I’m going to take a wait and see attitude. I still think there is a chance that this is all being blown out of proportion. And that the FTC is looking for people flaunting the rules to make money off kids content and not looking to just take us down just for the fun of it.

I think Youtuber’s are really good at freaking themselves out and over reacting. But this time the stakes are a lot higher than getting demonetized or taking a traffic hit.

I know for a fact that I am complying with the SPIRIT of the law. These laws exist to protect children and any claim that I’m doing that would not stand for a half a second would stand up in court. It’s so clear.

The most frustrating part of this is that Youtube has decided to throw creators under the bus. They gave us these vague rules and said if you have any questions ask your lawyer. Translation, we want to make money off you guys but don’t want any of the consequences for collecting and using this data. Good luck.

There are so many better ways this could be handled. A grace period where our videos are flagged so we can see what we should and what we shouldn’t? Maybe a content warning first? Hey, we see your video is not in compliance, fix it or then you will be fined.

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