In Three Weeks YouTubers Need to be COPPA Compliant — But They Have No Idea What that Means

Creators like Adam Saleh have no idea what 2020 will bring, but YouTube’s new bullying policy gives an idea

Image: Adam Saleh/YouTube, edited by Chris Stokel-Walker

Adam Saleh is worried. We are just three weeks away from 2020, and perhaps one of the biggest changes ever to YouTube as the video sharing platform celebrates its 15th birthday. The platform is introducing massive changes to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and they’re affecting creators.

The problem is Saleh, an Arab-American New Yorker who has 4.8 million subscribers, like many others has little idea of what those changes hold.

YouTube has introduced a new designation of video, “Made for Kids”, that will no longer have personalized ads served against it. The platform has complained to the Federal Trade Commission, who fined YouTube a record amount for its COPPA violations, about the vagaries of the rules. But creators are still in the dark.

Saleh has an audience of all ages, including children from the age of around eight to 15, who make up between 50% and 60% of his viewership. “It makes me nervous, because of losing my channel and monetization,” he says. “YouTube changes so many things.”

The creator first heard about the changes YouTube were introducing as a result of COPPA not from his YouTube partner manager or a personal communication, but instead through an automated notification while on the website. “I talked to the YouTube MCN [multichannel network] I’m part of, Fullscreen, and they don’t know much information,” he says. “Every time I talk to them they say they’ll know in a few months what YouTube wants to do. Even they don’t know much information about COPPA or anything that YouTube changes.”

That’s normal for YouTube, says Saleh. “YouTube always makes updates. That’s part of being on the platform. I’ve seen changes good and bad, and I’m still here,” he says. But COPPA is different.

“It’s a scary time not knowing what 2020 will hold,” says Saleh. “It makes me nervous. I do feel like, ‘What will happen?’”

He and other prank creators — Saleh describes himself as a prankster — have started adapting. “I’m using it as an opportunity to rethink my entire content strategy for 2020,” he explains. “Before, 2020 was a lot of friendly pranks. Now I can’t do pranks at all. I’m scared to put the word prank in the titles. There’ll be a different strategy for everything: titles, thumbnails, descriptions and tags. Everything, pretty much, because it’s really risky.”

Saleh has already self-censored his content: he wanted to title one video, of his one-year-old nephew walking strangely, “Drunk baby”. He decided against it. “In my head I’m like: ‘No, they’re going to look at this and think, was the baby given alcohol?’” He’s also shied away from using the word “prank” in video titles.

The creator has also given up the password to his account, sharing it with his manager and MCN. “We all have access to his channel in the event we need to jump in and do something quickly” to adapt to YouTube policy changes, says Chas Stahl, Saleh’s manager.

“I feel like it would be great if they could give us more information,” says Saleh. “Sometimes they’re really vague with the answers they have.”

He’s mainly concerned that COPPA will be a bigger, worse repeat of a situation he faced roughly 18 months ago, when YouTube contacted him and said that due to a policy change around kids’ content, he would have to change the thumbnail and titles on hundreds of his videos — a significant share of the more than 2,000 he’s uploaded to the platform. “I had to private hundreds of videos of mine that were at risk, and I had to change each title and each thumbnail,” says Saleh. Some he didn’t even bother making public once more.

“It frustrates me because those are videos they promoted at one point,” says Saleh. “I was gassed when they put them on Trending: one million views in one day. A few years later, it’s like: ‘You got a strike.’”

It’s all part of the new world of YouTube, which today announced updates to its harrassment policy that aim to head off criticism from politicians and regulators, including the FTC. But in making these changes now, YouTube is creating a dragnet that potentially transforms old content that was once acceptable into now inappropriate for the platform. It’s in part why we’ve seen iDubbzTV’s Content Cop series removed from YouTube this morning.

In 2020, expect to see fewer prank videos from Saleh and more wholesome content — an extension of the 30 Days of Saleh videos he’s currently producing in the run-up to Christmas.

“I’ve been on YouTube since 2012,” says Saleh. “This is so different.”

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

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