On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission fined YouTube $170 million for collecting data and targeting ads to children, an alleged violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The fine is relatively small — roughly 1 percent of the service’s annual revenue — but it comes with strict conditions that could spell disaster for the thousands of creators who are making content for children. As part of the settlement, YouTube must stop collecting data on videos that are targeted toward children (defined by the FTC as anyone under the age of 12). YouTubers who create videos for children, like unboxing toys or nursery rhymes, must also clearly label their content as being intended for kids.
For anyone making those videos, the changes will be significant. Features like comments and notifications won’t be available on videos “that have an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys, or games,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in a blog post responding to the settlement. It’s also likely that these videos will not be able to run targeted ads, which could affect monetization.
Those two product features might not seem like a big deal to viewers, but they could be catastrophic for creators. If channels can’t send notifications for certain videos, fewer people will watch those videos within the first crucial hours. This could lead to YouTube recommending fewer videos from that creator because people are less engaged. If videos aren’t recommended as much, it means fewer views, which means less money.
Wojcicki acknowledged that these changes won’t be easy for creators. These changes “will have a significant business impact on family and kids creators,” she said in the post, adding that “this won’t be easy for some creators and are committed to working with them through this transition.”
“It’s kind of like they’re killing video game content,” Forrest toldThe Verge. “The top three games on YouTube right now areFortnite,Minecraft, andRoblox, which are generally non-violent and child-centric games, especiallyRoblox. Now, we can’t make videos on more mature video games because they’ll get demonetized, but if we make videos on child-friendly games, they’re also now going to get demonetized. What do we do?”
Forrest is just one of many creators who is already thinking about possibly switching focus over to YouTube competitors like Twitch or Mixer if YouTube’s product and policy shifts affectMinecraftandRobloxcreators. For so many creators, “this is your job, and you got to keep doing it,” he said. That’s especially true “if YouTube doesn’t support you anymore.”
This isn’t the first time creators have been caught off-guard by a rule change, but it’s the first time that change has come so clearly from government rules rather than YouTube itself. Melissa Hunter, the CEO of Family Video Network, a company that works with family vloggers and family-friendly channels, said she worries about creators she works with who are now preparing for financial losses and possible career shifts. And she puts most of the blame on the FTC. “People who I deal with at YouTube feel horrible that the creators are the ones who are going to be hurt by this,” Hunter toldThe Verge. “The part that’s really frustrating to me is trying to apply a very outdated policy to a really unique and unexpected platform.”
“What’s left for people to advertise on?” Hunter said. “Because now you can’t advertise on content aimed at kids. They’re already not monetizing a bunch of other content. They’re already not running ads on channels where people curse a lot, channels where people talk about mental health issues. Videos about LGBTQ issues aren’t advertiser friendly. What do people make?”
Creators are still trying to figure that out. They have until January when the changes will start to go into effect to prepare for the absolute worst, according to Hunter, and they’re hoping YouTube will be transparent with them about what’s going on. All of the creatorsThe Vergespoke to said it feels eerily similar to some of the earliest “adpocalypses” — a term used within the community to refer to a giant wave of demonetization affecting different channels. Much of that fear comes from a history of YouTube not being direct and upfront with YouTubers about what they should expect and who will be affected, according to commentator and creator Een of the popular channel Nerd City.
“There is a serious impact on the mental health of creators from a lack of transparency by YouTube,” Een toldThe Verge. “We work really hard on something, and we don’t know how it’s going to be treated by the algorithm or if it will be monetized and whether it’s going to pay the bills. It’s a core stress of worrying about whether what you’re doing is a complete waste of your time economically for that week. That makes people have emotional crises. YouTube is always protecting itself with the lack of transparency, but it’s a terrible trade-off for the creator community.”
Wojcicki promised in her blog that more information will be given to creators as the company gears up to launch its product changes and policy updates. YouTubers like Een, Forrest, and Hunter are hopeful that’s true, but that doesn’t change how scared many creators are right now about what the future holds. It’s not just YouTubers’ careers on the line, either.
“I don’t think it’ll just affect YouTube. It could affect the entire gaming industry,” Forrest said. “It’ll affect which games are popular. Imagine ifFortnitewasn’t monetizable on YouTube.Fortnitewouldn’t be what it is. Ninja wouldn’t really be a thing. This could have major ramifications across the entire gaming industry and not just gaming creators on YouTube — but it’ll hurt us very much.”