Culture

KIDS Act dreams of a safer web for children — but it could hurt YouTubers

“Powerful companies push kids to buy products at every turn online, and top platforms are saturated with disturbing content that no kid should ever be exposed to.”

Senator Ed Markey

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Democratic senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal want to create a healthier ecosystem for children online with their Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, which was introduced on Thursday. The idea is that companies like YouTube and TikTok need to seriously improve how they handle and publish children's content.

Kids are flocking to YouTube — A 2019 study by Common Sense Media revealed that more than half of the 1,677 children surveyed, between the ages of 8 to 12, watched hours of videos online on a daily basis with YouTube being their first choice. That was twice the amount first reported in 2015. A sizable portion of this content includes unboxing videos. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have gone as far as to say that these unboxing clips are encouraging children to demand toys and gadgets from their parents and throw tantrums when they're told "no."

It's this kind of consumerism that KIDS Act wants to tackle. It's a thoughtful measure but some worry that the bill, if approved, would radically limit creators' content distribution and exposure on YouTube.

What the bill wants — KIDS Act would get tough on incentivized content that may encourage children to want products, including videos by the hugely popular Ryan's World. It would also demand an overhaul of web design for children and ban autoplay features.

"Powerful companies push kids to buy products at every turn online, and top platforms are saturated with disturbing content that no kid should ever be exposed to," Markey lamented in an official statement. "As a society, we’re playing catch up to the serious risks to kids online, and Congress has a responsibility to say loud and clear that Big Tech needs to get serious about the wellbeing of children and teens."

We can find common ground — For its own part, YouTube does have restrictions on ad targeting when it comes to kids' content. Of course, there's always room for improvement. Ideally, elected officials and tech experts can work together — not in opposition to each other — to find a solution that prioritizes children's health and safety without causing major damage to everyday content creators.