YouTube creators are panicking as YouTube classifies their videos as directed towards kids when they are not. It's a dumb algorithm. It would classify this as a comic book probably.

A human would never classify this channel as for kids under 13:


Or this: Chadtronic

Both of them have said that their videos were reclassified as for kids by the dumb algorithm.

As soon as a human sees those videos they will say they are not for kids. Humans make the final decisions not dumb algorithms. With enough human input the algorithm will get things right.

It may well be getting things right already for many videos. YouTube creators whose content was correctly classified will not be going on twitter talking about it.

None of this has any effect unless your videos are ad supported and directed at kiddies.

Also the worst case, if your videos are classified as for kids, is that you continue to have ads but without clickable links which can lead to a drop of revenue until it is sorted out. However right now it is only classifying. It's not until January before it does anything to your videos such as change the ads or remove comments, so you have plenty of time to report this and for it to sort things out.

Also, it's only young kids, videos for children of under 13 to watch. They don’t have to be specifically for them but must be made with them in mind as an audience, e.g. simpler language, topics that interest young children particularly etc. As an example ,Telletubbies and if you used simple language instead of an adult discussion of them - then that would be child directed even if you had mainly older children watching.

It is not for family orientated videos and not for videos made by young children (usually with some adult direction).

Videos for this post:

(click to watch on Youtube)

(click to watch on Youtube)

(click to watch on Youtube)

Please note - I did those videos with an earlier version of this post, hadn't found out the information in the section "MIGHT THE FTC FINE AN INDIVIDUAL CHANNEL OWNER? " below.

The answer on that point is that they say they could - but it would have to be a clear case where a YouTube channel owner is deceitfully telling YouTube their content isn't for kids when they know full well it is. In practice all 33 of their cases so far have been for companies. Surely not for gray area cases and no way they do that if it's an algorithm made a mistake.

See the section below for more about that.

This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of feeling suicidal about it, by such stories.

In this case it's watchers of these channels who are scared that the people they follow will stop making the content they enjoy. For some, with YouTube an important part of their life, this is a sary thought. So that's who I did this article for, and also incidentally to reassure any YouTube channel owners.

Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too


Will go into this more later, the FTC gives a list of factors that can help you decide, if you are not sure if your content is directed to kids (preteens). Many YouTube channel owners are scared that if any of these factors apply to their videos, e.g. that they use animation, that the FTC will automatically say it is for kids. But that is not the case. In the pre-amble to COPPA the FTC say:

To make clear that it will look to the totality of the circumstances to determine whether a site or service is directed to children (whether as its primary audience or otherwise), … the Commission has revised and reordered the definition of Web site or online service directed to children as follows.

Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule ("COPPA")


The statement in the COPPA FAQ itself is a little ambiguous but this is another one makes it clearer.

Here’s the short answer: Schools – which are usually part of the local government – don’t fall within the legal definition of who’s covered by COPPA because they aren’t commercial “operators.”

Testing, testing: A review session on COPPA and schools

You can also check the law itself:

Operator means any person who operates a Web site located on the Internet or an online service and who collects or maintains personal information from or about the users of or visitors to such Web site or online service, or on whose behalf such information is collected or maintained, or offers products or services for sale through that Web site or online service, where such Web site or online service is operated for commercial purposes involving commerce among the several States or with 1 or more foreign nations; in any territory of the United States or in the District of Columbia, or between any such territory and another such territory or any State or foreign nation; or between the District of Columbia and any State, territory, or foreign nation. This definition does not include any nonprofit entity that would otherwise be exempt from coverage under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45).


General requirements. It shall be unlawful for any operator of a Web site or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting or maintaining personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child in a manner that violates the regulations prescribed under this part. Generally, under this part, an operator must:


So the law itself is also clear but you don't need to examine the law because FTC also has clarified it is only for commercial operators.


This is happening because the Federal Trade Commission fined YouTube $170 million for collecting data and targeting ads to children, saying that they violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

It's basically recognizing that there is a kiddies part of adult YouTube that they will recognize by the type of content such as featuring kiddy characters as well as by people self reporting their videos as for kids.

The problem was that YouTube advertisers are recognizing kids as younger than 13 and showing targeted ads for toys to young kids. That is absolutely fine even on kiddies YouTube, but it was on adult YouTube. This meant the advertisers could include a link in the ad that a child could click on. They could click through and e.g. buy a toy train with their parents' money, perhaps, after watching an ad about them.

This is an example:

A child could click through on the “Shop Now!” and get here

It’s labeled as for 8+.

A smart kid might figure out how to buy it, especially if logged into their parent’s account to watch YouTube and with a form filler to remember details.

The kiddy content will still have ads, and you can get an idea of what these would mean from YouTube kids, this is ad supported too, but the ads are not permitted to have links to other websites, they can't be part of a purchase flow, there are other restrictions too.

Ads in YouTube Kids

There may well be gray areas, popular games that are used widely by both children and adults, Fortnite being an example.

This Verge article is focusing on those gray areas.

You can expect there to be work on solutions for it too, and this article is part of that dialog by criticizing YouTube's plans - they may then respond to such criticisms by changing details of how it works.

The main central message here is the impact on YouTube Vbloggers YouTube itself is launching a $100 million fund over three years to help generate new kids content which perhaps may help some of them.

It is just removing comments and removing the "buy now" links in ads which encourage young kids to spend money they or their families can't afford on toys - as impulse buys when an ad pops up. Such ads targeted to kids are illegal in the US.

The ads still run without the clickable links and they still get ad revenue from the advertisers for each impression but it is less income than for the clickable ads, maybe half the income.

Which might mean that they do twice as many videos? I can't see them stopping because the income is halved for kid orientated videos.

It would of course use neural nets, and there is plenty of possibilty for mistakes, but that is unavoidable.

YouTube already use neural nets for classifying videos as e.g. tobacco or alcohol orientated or any of their exclusions. If your videos are mischaracterized as one of those it would just stop ads altogether until it is sorted out

In this case, however, it will not stop adds for kiddie content.

The worst happens is that one of these videos loses the comments and clickable links on its ads, the content creator complains and a few days / weeks / months the ads get their clickable links again.

Their income on that particular video would maybe halve, or maybe more, it's hard to know until they do it - until it is sorted out for those weeks or months.

For the viewer all the difference is you can't comment and can't click on links in ads


There is no way that a human can go through and check all the videos so they use a neural net. But a neural net is dumb dumb dumb. There is nothing there knows what a human is, or a toy, or a child, or a video, or YouTube, or - nothing there that knows anything.

It’s mysterious how they work, but they need lots of data to train on. To start with they are bound to make many mistakes, it’s just the nature of a neural net. Given massive amounts of data eventually they can become nearly as good as humans at classifying things. But only for the things that humans typically upload.

There is still nothing there that understands anything in the way humans do. You can tell that with experiments to try to find simple patterns that the neural net classifies as the same as its training set.

For instance the neural net tested here was unable to tell the differnce between this:

and a comic book.

Or between this

and a screwdiver.

The aim isn’t to get a similar understanding to a human. The aim is to classify all the videos that humans upload correctly, push this weird non recognition into colours, and shapes that don’t matter to us.

Here are some more examples:

Evolving AI Lab - University of Wyoming

No matter how good the algorithm gets, it will still be possible to fool the neural net, but with some strange pattern of colours and lines you wouldn’t normally make as a human produced video.

If your video is mischaractarized then - you need to report this. The only way it can get better is with lots of data, and reporting will help there.

There is no reason particularly that making adult videos with content not suitable for minors would help as some are saying on twitter. They don’t understand what they are dealing with here.

The neural net would likely get those as mistaken too. If it is cartoonish but adult, there's no human there judging it. It's not going to make any difference to a dumb neural net, it could still classify it as for kiddies. If it is not for kids you just need to report it, not get hysterical, Google isn’t even acting on this yet.

Just report it. Glitches are expected when they roll out something like this. Remember it is a dumb algorithm that might well classify this

as a comic book.

It’s remarkable that these dumb algorithms work as well as they do given how they are not doing anything resembling what humans do when they classify these things.

The aim of a report is to get a human to look at your content instead of a dumb algorithm that can’t tell the difference between a screwdriver and a bunch of green splodges. As soon as a human checks your channel they will see that it got it wrong.

It will get better anyway. They will have humans doing spot checks on it, but only a small fraction of the videos. They can get it working faster if there are many people reporting it.

They won’t be removing the links from the ads or the comments sections or doing anything as a consequence of the classification until January, so you have lots of time to report issues and for them to sort things out.


The problem was that YouTube advertisers were recognizing kids as younger than 13 and showing targeted ads for toys to young kids. That is absolutely fine even on kiddies YouTube, but it was on adult YouTube. This meant the advertisers could include a link in the ad that a child could click on. They could click through and e.g. buy a toy train with their parents' money, perhaps, after watching an ad about them.

The kiddy content will still have ads, and you can get an idea of what these would mean from YouTube kids, this is ad supported too, but the ads are not permitted to have links to other websites, they can't be part of a purchase flow, there are other restrictions too.

Ads in YouTube Kids

It's also for content creators on adult YouTube who know that they are attracting kids younger than 13 and do videos there specifically targeted to them. Including young kids there who do videos for other young kids.

They don't have to stop doing these videos for kids on adult YouTube but YouTube is going to start recognizing these videos for what they are and turning off clickable links, also comments - because kiddies YouTube doesn't have comments sections where kids can interact with adult strangers.

So - on adult YouTube if it is a video FOR children - then you will not be able to run clickable links and they won't have commments sections.

It is based on the audience not the creator. It shouldn't affect videos by kids who are addressing adults e.g. about climate change.

It is not about familiy friendly videos - if you run a channel that comments on Doctor Who, then that's not targeted at kids although many kids would watch it - but adults too.

This sort of thing is illegal in the US which is why they were fined. It was only a token fine for them but a wake up call for YouTube.

The kiddies YouTube doesn't have those clickable ads with on the spot purchases, but many young children frequent adult YouTube and you can understand why. Adult issues like climate change affect young children and they want to watch the videos of the actual scientists who most of them won't do special kiddies versions for kiddies YouTube. For instance young children on adult YouTube want to give their message to adults.

Examples would be the school strikers. On kiddies YouTube they can only give their messages to other young children under 13.

Of course they would earn less from ads without the clickable links. But if you are a kiddy YouTube video maker - would you want to be earning money from persuading children to buy toys they or their parents can’t afford with enticing links they can click on straight from the ad?

You don’t need to worry about your favourite videos being taken down. All that will happen if they are targeted at young children is that the type of ad will change. They would also get less income per video. But they still will get an income. There still is an incentive to do YouTube videos targeted at young people.

If the video is targeted at kids then it will also mean the comments are disabled as for kiddie YouTube - so that they can’t interact with strangers and trolls in the comments sections.

So, yes, it will somewhat reduce income for people who make videos for kiddies on adult YouTube - and at the same time though protect the kids from targeted advertising and interactions with strangers on videos targeted specifically to them.

The YouTube page says:

You will be required to tell us if your content is made for kids. In addition, we'll use machine learning to help us identify videos that clearly target young audiences. At a high level, content that is made for kids has an emphasis on:

  • Children or children’s characters.
  • Popular children’s programming or animated characters.
  • Play-acting, or stories using children’s toys.
  • Child protagonists engaging in common natural play patterns such as play-acting and/or imaginative play.
  • Popular children’s songs, stories or poems.

Ultimately, you know your audience best and we’ll rely on you to designate (in Studio) your videos as made for kids. If a creator attempts to avoid categorizing their content correctly, there may be consequences on the YouTube platform for that creator.

Upcoming changes to kids content on

This does NOT mean that every video that has a children’s toy or character in it will be automatically catagorized as for children. They will be using machine learning together with taking account of the decisions made by content creators about their own videos.


If they are doing it full time and then they have a drop in income it becomes part time, but would probably keep going.

Children are likely supported by their parents and living at home, depending how young they are but most children aren't working. So for those surely they would keep doing it if it is something they enjoy.

Also some of the ones with most subscribers are earning vast amounts so for them they would still be earning a lot at 40%.

They surely won’t take the videos down just because they are earning 40% or even 10% of what they were earning before. It is still an income and there is no cost to them of hosting them on YouTube and it remains the situation that any video they produce will earn them income.


(click to watch on Youtube)

01:06: We'll use machine learning systems to help us find content that is clearly made for kids but don't rely on our systems to set content for you like all automated systems it's not perfect if you don't set your audience or if we detect error or abuse we may set your audience for you but in most cases we'll rely on your audience setting to determine whether a video is made for kids

05:26: what happens if I mark my videos audience incorrectly?

If you don't say your content appropriately this may result in compliance issues for you under Coppa and other laws and if we find that you're abusing our systems and intentionally marking your videos incorrectly this may result in consequences for your channel or video

The video just says if you mark your videos incorrectly it may have consequences for your channel or videos. But they don't say anything specific.

They want the creators to mark them correctly so that the algorithm will be able to learn from them.


(click to watch on Youtube)

13:45: Commissioner slaughter raised concerns that this would maybe incentivize content creators to misidentify programming to ensure that they continue to receive revenue from behavioral advertising can you respond to that criticism and how might the FTC combat that issue?

So I think that's a valid concern there is apparently we've learned in this investigation and just learned from you know in the now information in the public domain that there are there are benefits to gathering information and targeting advertising and so there it is possible that content creators will miss designate.

So, one response to that is that's why we're conducting the sweep the second response to that is that there will be consequences for content creators who miss designate including being kicked off the YouTube platform so there so if content creators are are not sincere or forthcoming with YouTube and designating content as being directed to children, there will be consequences for them.

We also think that YouTube has strong incentives to police its platform both to avoid future enforcement actions by the FTC but also because it's offering this platform to content creators, and if the FTC is bringing independent piecemeal actions against content creators for violating Coppa, that may did that may discourage content creators from posting content on YouTube.

So the analogy that I think of, imperfect, is the expression about shooting fish in a barrel and you tube is the barrel and the content creators are the fish and so it's a place where these where this content is centralized and essentially it's easy for us to find.2420

40:20 so I think that we would have strong penalties in future cases against content creators as as in channel owners as well particularly when we would have a situation where the channel owner was specifically asked are you child-directed and the channel owner said no so when we see those facts we're going to have to evaluate them you know every case is different we'll have to evaluate the facts that we are given and and in we'll have to evaluate them in context but if I'm a channel owner those facts don't look so good for me I think

So, the FTC reserves the right to go after individual channel owners if it is clear that they are being deceitful about this.

The consequences then are

  • To be kicked off YouTube
  • For very clear violations a civil penalty imposed by the FTC.

You are okay so long as you are honest. There is no way they would prosecute you for mistakenly saying something is not child directed because you misunderstood the rules.

Only the FTC can do this prosecuting.


They have no legal authority over you, they are just a website that you use.

Theoretically they could shut down your channel but they are not going to do that for just marking videos incorrectly.

All that YouTube can do is to pull ads from their videos, that would be the worst case scenario. But that also doesn’t make sense for them as they lose money from doing that.

You need to have 1000 subscribers and a certain amount of views to have ads that earn you money. They could pull the ads altogether from the videos that they judge as incorrectly marked and not just make them kid friendly ads. That's about the worst they could do or the very worst, pull ads from the entire channel but this would surely only be for serious and clearly intentionally misleading marking a channel that is obviously for 13 years and less as for families and even then it doesn’t make sense for them financially.

This is an example that would definitely count as for kiddies, if someone marked this as not for kiddies and consistently did it, not a mistake, then they might shut down their channel, or in worst case might impose a civil penalty on them.

(click to watch on Youtube)


It is the FTC not YouTube that can do fines. Typically they fine companies not individuals you can look at their previous cases, 33 so far, all been of companies. :The most recent was Google, fined 170 million dollars . It is indeed up to $42,530 per video so they clearly decided that Google had violated it with at least 4,000 videos. But they didn't fine the creators of those videos, they fined Google.

And Google didn't pass those fines on to the creators of the videos either.

Also this whole thing is only for videos targeted at kiddies under 13.

This is where that figure comes from:

A court can hold operators who violate the Rule liable for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation. The amount of civil penalties a court assesses may turn on a number of factors, including the egregiousness of the violations, whether the operator has previously violated the Rule, the number of children involved, the amount and type of personal information collected, how the information was used, whether it was shared with third parties, and the size of the company. Information about the FTC’s COPPA enforcement actions, including the amounts of civil penalties obtained, can be found by clicking on the Case Highlights link in the FTC’s Business Center.

Complying with COPPA: Frequently Asked Questions

So far there have been 33 cases taken out under this rule. All of them are companies, not individuals.

In this case it is an individual, not a company, who just failed to tick a check box with no previous offence.

They are certainly not going to do that for honest mistakes and gray area things.

If you are deceitfully telling YouTube that your channel is for adults when you know full well that its for kids, then you need to think carefully, though the most likely worst case is that your channel is kicked off from YouTube, the FTC do have the ability to fine you if they decided it is a serious enough offence.

[Correction - earlier version I didn’t realize this point]


If COPPA wouldn't classify it as directed towards children of 13 or under then there is no reason at all for YouTube to do that either.

They just want to make sure that when the FTC reviews progress they agree that the videos directed at kiddies on YouTube now have the appropriate ads on them and have comments switched off.

They are NOT not going to apply this to videos for families - COPPA wouldn’t even look at those. But they do want to have it so that when COPPA check up on progress that videos for teletubbies, say, don’t have ads where young kids can click on links and buy toys they can’t afford.

YouTube themselves would prefer to do nothing.

And yes the algorithm might mischaracterize videos as kiddies when they are not, but this would be something the creators would surely flag as mistaken and it would get sorted out - it’s a case of a drop of income for weeks or months not for ever.

They would surely roll it out slowly - not all at once, and it would learn as it goes. They have got a lot better - most of those weird copyright ones are from years ago. They used to classify my metronome tracks made with my own software as copyright infringements of various music tracks with a heavy beat! Not any more.

Remember that it is not in YouTube's interests either to classify videos as for kiddies when they are n ot as they will reduce their own ad revenue.


They explain in more detail on the page you get to if you click on the link to decide if your content is directed to kids under COPPA.

"As the creator, you know your content best. If you intended to reach a kid audience, it’s likely that your video is made for kids. If you’re not sure about your audience, take a look at the features of your video - does it have actors, characters, activities, games, songs, or stories that kids are particularly attracted to? If so, your video may be directed to kids. The key is to balance all the COPPA specified factors that apply to this analysis. For example, the fact that a kid is featured in a video does not necessarily mean that the video is made for kids. You will have to look at all other attributes of the video like the intended audience, whether the video uses language that is intended for kids to understand, and the subject matter of the video (a medical video versus a play video)."

So for instance if it had a teenage audience but you were say talking about tellietubbies using simplified language to make it easier for younger children to understand then it is still directed at kiddies.

Because though many of your audience are teenagers you have gone out of your way to make it very accessible to young kids and have chosen a subject matter that would be appealing to them too.

If you are doing that then you should accept the restriction to not have clickable purchase links that the younger kids in your audience could click on to buy toys, and the restriction of no comments on those particular videos.

The reason they say you have to seek legal advice if unsure is that they are doing this for COPPA not for themselves. But the financial penalites of COPPA would be on YouTube not you if they find they are still running these ads on child directed videos.

The guidelines are here

Determining if your content is made for kids


This is the actual law that triggered all this, the summary of the law:

COPPA imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age.

Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule ("COPPA")

Some are worrying about this section:

In determining whether a Web site or online service, or a portion thereof, is directed to children, the Commission will consider its subject matter, visual content, use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives, music or other audio content, age of models, presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children, language or other characteristics of the Web site or online service, as well as whether advertising promoting or appearing on the Web site or online service is directed to children. The Commission will also consider competent and reliable empirical evidence regarding audience composition, and evidence regarding the intended audience.

However in the pre-amble the FTC say:

To make clear that it will look to the totality of the circumstances to determine whether a site or service is directed to children (whether as its primary audience or otherwise), … the Commission has revised and reordered the definition of Web site or online service directed to children as follows.

Although some commenters expressed concern that these additional factors might capture general audience sites, produce inconsistent results, or be overly broad (since musicians and celebrities often appeal both to adults and children), the Commission believes that these concerns are unfounded.

The Commission reiterates that these factors are some among many that the Commission will consider in assessing whether a site or service is directed to children, and that no single factor will predominate over another in this assessment.

There is nothing there about sites that “appeal to kids”.

So, this does NOT mean that if a site has pokemon characters on it, say, that it will count as one that targets children just because of those characters. Those are various things that they would weigh up to decide if it is directed at children together with actual data about the age of the visitors to the site if available.

There is a lot of misinformation about it.


There are some very misleading Change . org petitions on this topic. Anyone can set up a Change . org petition. I did this just now to show how easy this is to do:

Don’t take what they say in a petition as evidence.


  • This is only for YouTube videos that are targeted at young children. It is not for family friendly videos (not e.g. for fans of Doctor Who, say, which is a family friendly TV series).
  • It will not stop all ads, only change them to ones without clickable links
  • It will also remove the comments section.
  • The ads are YouTube’s responsibility and FTC is concerned about YouTube not about you.
  • COPPA, and so YouTube do not automatically classify animation or animations that appeal to children as directed at children
  • If a video is mischaracterized then it would be like copyright claims, the creator would tell YouTube they got it wrong and eventually a human will review the decision.
  • YouTube wants you to tick a box to say if your video is kiddie orientated.

    But it can’t enforce this and obviously creators with thousands of videos are not going to go back and reclassify them all.
  • YouTube wants to maximize its own ad revenue. They won’t be taking clickable ads off any YouTube streams if the ads will be in compliance with US law if they can avoid it. If only out of self interest.

    YouTube wants to maximize its income as much as its video creators do.
  • If you deceive YouTube and say that your child is not child directed when it is, you do face possible consequences, up to losing your channel or a civil penalty.

    But this would have to be a clear violation - this is surely not going to happen for a gray area case where you misunderstood the rules.


If you see any mistakes in this however small, or have any suggestions or questions, be sure to comment below, thanks!

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