Senator Josh Hawley is proposing legislation which would force YouTube and other video services from recommending videos which feature minors. The issue that Senator Hawley is trying to resolve with the legislation stems from the revelation last fall that a “soft-core pedophilia ring” was using the YouTube comment system to share videos and playlists of YouTube videos of minors. In response, Google disables comments on thousands of YouTube channels, many of which were family vlog channels with more than 100,000 subscribers.
While Google’s actions addressed the specific issue which was identified, a report from the New York Times recently revealed that YouTube’s algorithm can easily be manipulated since “user who watches erotic videos might be recommended videos of women who become conspicuously younger, and then women who pose provocatively in children’s clothes. Eventually, some users might be presented with videos of girls as young as 5 or 6 wearing bathing suits, or getting dressed.”
The findings are quite disturbing, but legislation which forces YouTube and other services to change the way the algorithm works could have inadvertent consequences, putting thousands of YouTube creators at a disadvantage, resulting in dramatically fewer views, simply because a minor is featured in the video.
The proposed legislation does make room for a few “exceptions” which include videos that “simply have minors in the background” and “professionally produced videos, like prime-time talent-show competitions.” A better solution would be to give individual users the option for their videos to be recommended by the algorithm, just as users already have the option to make the video public or private.
There’s no indication that Senator Josh Hawley’s legislation will make it to the house floor, but there’s a good chance that something similar could be proposed. Google and other large tech companies have been facing a lot of scrutiny this year, so we wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes yet another hot topic for politicians over the next few months.