What is YouTube?

youtube.jpgYouTube is the world's largest online video sharing community. It's a website where users can view videos posted by thousands of other people and post their own videos in turn. YouTube is the most popular site of its kind and is recognized for its easy-to-use interface and the sheer volume of free video content it offers.

Many of the videos on YouTube are recognized for their entertainment value and/or their potential to teach and help users at home and in the classroom. Such well-known (and funny!) clips as Charlie Bit My Finger and David After Dentist were first shared and made famous on YouTube. While the YouTube terms of service prohibit the posting of material that is "inaccurate, offensive, indecent, or objectionable,"1 many videos on YouTube do not meet these standards.

What are the benefits?

YouTube has many benefits, similar to all social networking sites. YouTube allows for increased connectivity - friends can share family videos, relevant videos can be embedded into blogs and presentations, users can find the latest media news, events, etc.

Several organizations use YouTube as a vehicle for viral marketing. Stars such as Justin Bieber were discovered through their popular YouTube channels. Non-profit organizations frequently use YouTube to send promotional videos, such as the "It Gets Better" campaign.

Additionally a movement has begun to incorporate YouTube into education. Not only do teachers have access to YouTube videos that apply to their lessons, but many colleges are allowing professors to post lectures, or summaries of lectures to YouTube 2. Also, YouTube has an endless number of instructional videos for anything from "How to solve a rubix cube" to "How to wash a window like a professional." With YouTube's wide variety of subject matters, it is likely that almost anyone can find videos that are either entertaining, or helpful.

What are the risks?

  • Your child could be viewing highly pornographic, violent, or otherwise inappropriate videos. Because of the tremendous volume of videos posted every day, YouTube does not view the videos before they are posted to the Web. This means that, although the YouTube terms of use prohibit the posting of anything that might be considered offensive, extremely inappropriate material is easy to stumble across (and even easier to find deliberately).
  • Adult content on YouTube is primarily protected by requiring an account. However, the YouTube account setup has no way of guaranteeing that a user is above the age of 18. As a consequence, any child can set up an account claiming to be 18 years or older, and access every video on YouTube, including those that have been tagged as adult only.
  • Many videos on YouTube are trolls for other pornographic or sexually oriented websites and services. Even if these videos do not technically contain nudity or sexual content, they may provide teaser material that does not strictly cross the line, but that entices a viewer to look for more explicit material. Such videos typically include a web address in the video, providing information for interested viewers to jump to their site. Almost all such trolling videos are accessible to all viewers of YouTube, independent of the viewer having an account.
  • Your child could be posting videos on YouTube. Anything posted on the Internet is free game for others to view, modify, or pass along to other people. Your child could be putting themselves at risk if he or she is posting things that are inappropriate or overly personal. Even if a video isn't overtly sexual or offensive, something posted carelessly may end up embarrassing a user in the future. Anyone can view what is posted on YouTube—including friends, family, potential employers, future in-laws . . . the list goes on.
  • The comments and video previews that accompany videos often contain inappropriate material. YouTube users are allowed to post comments below YouTube videos. These comments can be full of swearing and profanity as well as crude and unkind language. You also see still frames of videos that are related to the one you're watching as you watch any YouTube clip. (You also see a whole screenful of these on the main YouTube page.) Even if the clip you are watching is safe, there is no guarantee that you won't be exposed to inappropriate material. Youtube has now begun a filtering system to help remove unwanted comments. Content creators can now choose keywords that the filters will use to screen comments. In effect, you can now remove swearing and other crude comments from your videos.
  • Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, and Ted Williams all acheived high levels of fame and popularity after videos were posted and shared through YouTube. Given these stories, children could cling to the idea they will be discovered through the site. They could be greatly disappointed if someone posts rude comments on their video or if they are never discovered.

How Can I Use It Safely?

  • Decide if YouTube is appropriate for your children. Consider your children's ages, needs for school, and any other factors you feel are important. If you object to the content on this site block it using an Internet filter.
  • Determine what role you will play in your child's YouTube use. The bottom line is that parental involvement is a critical factor in keeping your kids away from the bad content on YouTube. If YouTube is blocked in your home, let your kids know that you are willing to go on YouTube with them to view a particular funny video they may have heard about from friends at school. With teens (who may have a legitimate need to access YouTube for school), be sure to ask what videos your child is accessing.
  • Use a monitoring software. In addition to keeping communication open with your child, be sure you have the ability to go back and watch anything your child is watching. If you find that inappropriate videos are being accessed, take necessary action—whether that is a talk with your kids about the dangers of YouTube or revoking YouTube privileges altogether.
  • Know what your child is posting on YouTube. If your child is uploading videos to YouTube, watch them! Monitor any of your kids' uploads to be sure they are clean, do not violate copyright laws, and do not give excessively personal information (over-sharing) about your child. Often times kids are not aware that they are posting sensitive information in videos; for example, you could see the address of a house in the background or kids might talk about things that let people know what school they attend.
  • Quietube allows you to watch YouTube videos on a clean white screen that's free from potentially inappropriate ads, video previews, and comments.
  • Report abuse. YouTube allows you to report abuse in the YouTube Safety Center. You can also flag a video as inappropriate by first clicking the "dislike" button then following the steps to report inappropriate content. YouTube will restrict videos from minors if they are found to contain adult content (confirmation of birth date becomes required to view the video).3
  • Learn how to share videos privately.  Unless a video is set as "private" or "unlisted," it will be visible to the public; anyone might see it in the search results.  A private video can only be seen by up to 50 registered YouTube users, which must be specified by the poster.  An unlisted video can only be seen by people who have a direct link to it, though they don't have to be registered users.  Neither of these settings will cause the video to appear in the public search results.4
  • When posting new videos, update your comment filters to remove comments with offensive material such as crude language and swearing. 5

Where Can I Learn More?

Click here to read guest blogger Teri Schroeder's post about YouTube.

Read some of our newswire reports about YouTube:

Review of YouTube with advisories for parents.