YouTube said it’s banning comments on some videos featuring minors, responding to criticism and the loss of advertisers after the service was used by potential predators to exploit children.
The Google unit, one of the world’s largest video services, disabled comments from tens of millions of videos “that could be subject to predatory behavior” and will continue to identify similar troubling videos in coming months, the company said Thursday in an unsigned blog post.
“We will be broadening this action to suspend comments on videos featuring young minors and videos featuring older minors that could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior,” YouTube added.
Pulling comments from YouTube is a big step. Video creators use the comments section to communicate with viewers, find new ones and get feedback. It’s also a major part of what makes YouTube social.
“It basically destroys the community,” said Jacob Strickling, who makes online videos about science that run on YouTube. He expects it to have a “massive impact” on those videos’ views as fans find themselves unable to communicate with each other through the comments section. “They will leave YouTube and go to platforms like Facebook where they can continue their commenting and banter.”
YouTube is using an artificial intelligence technique called machine learning to build the software that will automatically select which videos will have comments suspended, a spokeswoman said. Clips that include kids of 13 and younger will have the comments section removed. Videos featuring children aged 14 to 17 with subjects with potential for abuse, like gymnastics, will also see their comments disabled.
YouTube has used AI software to classify videos and identify specific content, but the system has had mixed results, including recommending conspiracy theories and other questionable information.
Several large advertisers, including AT&T Inc. and Kellogg Co., pulled spending from YouTube last week after comments on the service were used to identify video clips of young girls participating in activities such as posing in front of a mirror and doing gymnastics. Comments under the videos suggested potential predators were bookmarking certain points and sharing them with others. If users clicked on the clips, YouTube’s software recommended similar ones.
Episodes like this are forcing YouTube to rely less on automation and more on human monitoring and curation. On Thursday, the site said that a small number of creators can keep comments enabled on videos featuring minors only if they actively moderate the comments and “demonstrate a low risk of predatory behavior.” That will be time consuming and expensive. YouTube’s parent, Google, is a unit of Alphabet Inc.