New Study Finds YouTube Targets Children With Gun-Related Content

Photo from Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

New Study Finds YouTube Targets Children With Gun-Related Content

By Movieguide® Contributor

A study conducted at the end of last year found that YouTube’s algorithm leads young kids to videos about school shootings and other gun-related topics. 

The Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a nonprofit watchdog group, conducted a study last November posing as young boys. They created two accounts acting as 9-year-old boys and two accounts acting as 14-year-old boys. All of the accounts watched playlists of popular video games like Roblox, Lego Star Wars, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto. The researchers then tracked the video recommendations to these accounts over all of November. 

“The study found that YouTube pushed content on shooting and weapons to all of the gamer accounts, but at a much higher volume to the users who clicked on the YouTube-recommended videos,” the TTP reported. “These videos included scenes depicting school shootings and other mass shooting events; graphic demonstrations of how much damage guns can inflict on a human body; and how-to guides for converting a handgun to a fully automatic weapon.” 

The report notes that several of these recommended videos clearly violate YouTube’s terms of service and many of the videos were monetized with ads. 

“We welcome research on our recommendations, and we’re exploring more ways to bring in academic researchers to study our systems,” a YouTube spokesperson said in response to the study. “But in reviewing this report’s methodology, it’s difficult for us to draw strong conclusions. For example, the study doesn’t provide context of how many videos were recommended to the test accounts, and also doesn’t give insight into how the test accounts were set up, including whether YouTube’s Supervised Experience tools were applied.” 

While the study may not be particularly useful in YouTube’s opinion, for parents, it highlights the need for continued supervision over the content that their children consume. 

Movieguide® previously reported on YouTube’s inability to protect children on the site: 

The Federal Trade Commission fined the Google-owned YouTube $170 million for violating children’s privacy.  

The FTC alleges YouTube violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule by collecting personal information—in the form of persistent identifiers that are used to track users across the Internet—from viewers of child-directed channels, without first notifying parents and getting their consent.  

YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the identifiers, commonly known as cookies, to deliver targeted ads to viewers of these channels. 

Of the $170 million settlement, $136 million will go to the FTC, and the remainder will go to New York state.  

According to the complaint: 

The defendants knew that the YouTube platform had numerous child-directed channels. YouTube marketed itself as a top destination for kids in presentations to the makers of popular children’s products and brands. For example, Google and YouTube told Mattel, maker of Barbie and Monster High toys, that “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels” and told Hasbro, which makes My Little Pony and Play-Doh, that YouTube is the “#1 website regularly visited by kids.” 

Several channel owners told YouTube and Google that their channels’ content was directed to children, and in other instances YouTube’s own content rating system identified content as directed to children. In addition, according to the complaint, YouTube manually reviewed children’s content from its YouTube platform to feature in its YouTube Kids app. Despite this knowledge of channels directed to children on the YouTube platform, YouTube served targeted advertisements on these channels. According to the complaint, it even told one advertising company that it did not have users younger than 13 on its platform and therefore channels on its platform did not need to comply with COPPA. 

Now more than ever we’re bombarded by darkness in media, movies, and TV. Movieguide® has fought back for almost 40 years, working within Hollywood to propel uplifting and positive content. We’re proud to say we’ve collaborated with some of the top industry players to influence and redeem entertainment for Jesus. Still, the most influential person in Hollywood is you. The viewer.

What you listen to, watch, and read has power. Movieguide® wants to give you the resources to empower the good and the beautiful. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support.

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