The line between an ad and entertaining content is blurred on YouTube, and a child rights watchdog group is asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in.
The Truth in Advertising group has filed a complaint with the FTC over a specific YouTube creator channel – Ryan ToysReview. The channel hosts seven-year-old Ryan Kaji (but is run by his parents), and often finds Kaji playing with and unboxing toys. The complaint says Kaji's parents did not disclose paid sponsorships from companies such as Chuck E. Cheese & # 39; s and Hardee & # 39; s. When the channel correctly disclosed paid sponsorships, they were written or expressed in a way that it is impossible for preschoolers to understand.
"An adult might tell … when a child inventor, like Ryan, plays with one of their own products," Bonnie Patten, Truth in Advertising's CEO, told The Verge . " The intended audience, who are preschoolers, have no idea that they are being marketed as commercials. The goal is for them to say: & # 39; Mom, I want what Ryan has. & # 39; "
Truth in Advertising's complaint also brings up a related issue that the YouTube community has previously talked about: creators plugging their own merchandise and other products into young viewers. A 2018 investigation by YouTuber One of the popular Nerd City channel discovered that almost half the length of Paul's videos is used to plug his own products, which he tries to sell to young children. That's why personalities like Ethan Klein, who hosts the popular H3 Podcast have referred to Paul's advertising methods as predatory.
It's a question advocacy groups have been battling against YouTube for many years, but a decisive factor has changed this week. YouTube used to reject criticism by reiterating that the terms of service specifically state the site is not intended to be used by anyone under the age of 13. Instead, YouTube pointed to the official Kids app as a place for younger viewers to watch more curated videos. Even then, children's rights to advocate complained that YouTube obviously ignored that many of their biggest channels were dedicated to young children, including playground boxes and nursery rhymes. The company also allowed advertisers to specifically target family content, which appeared to be in violation of YouTube's statement.
Now, after receiving a record $ 170 million fine for allegedly violating children's online privacy law, YouTube is changing things. YouTube must stop collecting data on videos targeted to minors, which means they won't be able to run with targeted ads. This will probably push the creators to take on more sponsorship from companies because they can no longer run some type of popular advertising on their channel. Creators who make videos that appeal to a younger audience or target children directly will also have to tag their videos as such, and will lose some product capabilities, including being able to send notifications. YouTube has also launched a dedicated Kids version of the site that can be accessed online, which exists alongside the YouTube Kids app.
This does not address Paten's concerns about the blurred line found in the creator's videos, but she argues that there is evidence that the government and YouTube are ready to address serious advertising issues on the platform.
"Influencer marketing is a relatively new form of marketing," Patten said. “Research and the law must catch up with it now. There are now a number of researchers who are able to guide the FTC in how to handle this, especially this type of native advertising when it comes to children. I think we will certainly see new guidelines from the FTC. "
Whether it means Personalities like Paul, Kaji or even JoJo Siwa, a popular YouTube creator who often incorporates his own product lines into his videos, will have to stop. It's not about limiting all creators from working with advertisers or using their own platforms to market their own product, Patten said, "It's about understanding the difference between an audience who can watch a video and treating someone trying to sell them something and those who can't.
"The FTC would assume that a reasonable consumer who follows Kylie Jenner will know it's her makeup line when she posts on Instagram," Patten said. "And if they know it's her makeup line and she connects it, they don't have to Kylie Jenner didn't reveal anything. The question of when you need a disclosure arises only when the sensible consumer looks at it, not knowing that it is an advertisement. "
" In the case of young children, especially preschoolers, the research says: & # 39; You are not allowed to place ads on them organically because they cannot separate ads from organic content. "