YouTube Turns Off Comments To Protect Children & Ad Revenue
YouTube has announced a major change to how users comment and interact with video content on the platform in the wake of its latest scandal.
YouTube has disabled comments on millions of videos due to allegations they were being used by paedophiles to communicate with one another, in a disturbing expose by YouTuber Matt Watson.
While that claim is currently unsubstantiated, there is no denying the highly inappropriate nature and intent of comments found on YouTube videos of minors doing innocent things like eating ice-cream or practising yoga.
Many of these genuinely innocent videos and channels, turned vile in the comments, were preceded with pre-roll video ads for brands. Hence the 2019 YouTube ad boycott commences.
Major brands locally, like Coles, Optus, CommBank, Woolworths and Coca-Cola have all stopped advertising on the platform, as has many pockets of government. Similarly, in New Zealand, telco Spark, TVNZ and New Zealand Government have pulled spend.
The same moves have been echoed in the US, UK and beyond.
YouTube is in full blown damage control mode at the moment, with more updates and changes likely to follow this week.
Same Old 'Big Tech', Always Hand-Wringing & Lip Service
While this news is sickening and depressing, yet again highlighting the dangers minors can be exposed to online, it is not surprising.
In fact, this is essentially a rerun of a 2017 YouTube scandal:
- The Verge November 2017: YouTube says it will block predatory comment sections on videos of minors
- CNet November 2017: YouTube outlines plan to protect kids from disturbing content
- AdNews November 2017: YouTube must do more to protect children; blocking ads and comments is not enough
- Guardian November 2017: Firms ditch YouTube ads over predatory comments on videos of children
For heaven’s sake, here’s a related story from 2013, YouTube enlists Google+ to fix the world's worst comments.
You know you are in trouble when Google+ was supposed to be the solution…
While comments may be off now, knee-jerk platform updates like this have a habit of being gradually reversed several months down the line, once the PR storm has blown over.
Are Advertiser Backlashes A Waste Of Time?
YouTube goes through advertiser boycotts like Australia goes through Prime Ministers.
Just out of interest, what did the 2017 advertiser backlash above achieve?
Alternatively, what about the other times when brand video content was found running around:
- ISIS videos on YouTube
- Jihadi videos on YouTube
- Nazi and racist videos on YouTube
- Woman-hating videos on YouTube
The advertiser ‘backlashes’ and ‘boycotts’ these sparked, what did they achieve?
You guessed it, the square root of sod all.
Based on prior experiences, many boycotts are short-lived PR exercises and box ticking exercises for clients. For large agencies, it often offers a good opportunity to renegotiate favourable terms with platforms.
Almost everyone comes back eventually.
For example, US advertiser AT&T in January ended a two year YouTube hiatus after one of the jihadi scandals of 2017. One can only assume they’re stoked about that decision six weeks later.
If brand safety is a primary communications motivation then certain aspects of Google and Facebook's marketing system may be undesirable, and longer-term alternatives should be sort.
For example, last week Sky News pulled all ads from Andrew’s Bolt impassioned defence of convicted paedophile Cardinal Pell, in the name of brand safety.
A smart move at a sensitive time.
Any media sales rep, not working for Google or Facebook, who is not pushing brand safety as a sales hook should hang their head in shame.
What Can You Do To Improve Band Safety?
The reality is, despite having 98,771 employees and the world’s smartest machine learning Google cannot guarantee brand safety.
To be fair, this is not an issue confined to YouTube. It is an achilles heel for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et al.
Comprehensive brand safety would be hard, expensive and extensive lobbying means governments haven’t forced them to do it. Yet.
Hopefully, the ACCC's recent rulings may bring about a semblance of more ethical business practices from Google and Facebook. Rather than behaving like 'Digital Gangsters', according to a recent UK Parliamentary report.
Practical ways to improve brand safety on digital platforms
- Take responsibility
- Either own brand safety or explicitly pay someone to do it
- Do not rely on Big Tech alone since they clearly cannot be trusted
- For enterprise-level advertisers consider investing in enterprise-grade brand safety tools, e.g. Fullscreen or Adobe
- Ensure you have visibility on where your online campaigns are appearing
- Many clients do not have access to their online ad accounts
- Given legitimate transparency concerns this is not good practice
- Be familiar with automatic safety measures which can be employed
- Within YouTube or the broader Google Display Network regularly view where your ads are appearing
- For Google search check which search queries are triggering your ads monthly
Outside of ineffective short-term boycotts, there are undoubtedly practical means to reduce brand safety risks, albeit with the understanding it can never be zero.