A survey of teenage use of the popular video-sharing website YouTube confirms that it is very easy for minors to give their age as 18 or over when creating an account on the site, and therefore to access objectionable material. Parents need to advise their children against looking for R18 videos and YouTube needs to make its safety features more prominent, a new report suggests.
“Anchor, Rockbrook and InterMedia (2009) YouTube:Usage & abusage” is a unique study carried out by five Irish teens from the Anchor Youth Centre in Dublin. Using contacts in schools in Ireland, Switzerland, Latvia, Poland and the Netherlands, the young researchers received completed questionnaires from over 3200 students aged 12 to 17. These were analysed with advice from an expert in the Dublin Institute of Technology, which is a member of the EU Kids Online network. InterMedia Consulting also helped with the project.
The study itself seems to be the first of its kind: “as far as we are aware there are no figures or statistics in relation to YouTube usage by teenagers,” the authors say.
Nearly all the respondents (94 per cent) said they used YouTube on a regular basis, and 51 per cent admitted to accessing R18 videos on the site. This requires that the user creates an account, but there is nothing to stop a person falsifying their age. Some 17 per cent of those surveyed did not answer the question whether they accessed the restricted videos, but of those who answered, 20 per cent of girls watched them rarely and 6 per cent often, while 32 per cent of boys watched them rarely and 18 per cent often. The differences may be explained by the types of videos boys tend to watch — gaming comedy and entertainment — as opposed to girls, who mostly view music videos.
There were country differences too: less than 28 per cent of Polish minors accessed restricted videos but the percent rose to 44 per cent in Ireland and 50 per cent in Switzerland.
Most of the teens used YouTube passively, neither creating accounts, downloading videos or uploading their own onto the site. They simply watch videos or listen to music — a cheaper way to listen than downloading files.
“We can nearly conclude from this that –at least in the five countries we analysed– most young people don’t use YouTube to “broadcast yourself” as their motto says but simply to passively watch videos: so it is more of an alternative entertainment box than a social networking tool for sharing personal things with others.”
Only about a quarter of the young people had recourse to YouTube daily, and between 40 and 46 per cent one or two days a week. The majority accessed the site at home, the largest group nominating “my own room” as the usual place.
“One of the findings of this survey that shocked us the most is that hardly anybody (only 18%) has accessed the Safety Advice provided in all the pages of the YouTube website. However 26% of Under-13 year olds have accessed the Safety Advice, but as they get older, the percentage decreases: 16% for 13-14 year olds, and 12% for 15-17.”
“Perhaps it is not that surprising, as the link to the Safety Advice pages is buried at the bottom of the YouTube webpages. There should be more action taken on this issue, perhaps a more visible HELP button to make it easier to report things that minors may consider to be wrong, and that it will be dealt with efficiently, or even Safety Advice based advertisements before the videos.”
Personal interviews with 12 respondents revealed their perception that “parents were quite clueless about their doings on the Internet, and on YouTube in particular. We think that this is linked to the children not having Filters that can track what they do on the Internet and also to the fact that many adults are techno-phobes,” say the researchers. Reassuring, however, are indications that few teens use the site for networking or show curiosity in features like “Videos Watched Now”.
The authors conclude:
“It is far too easy to access over-18s videos: this needs to be restricted somehow. It may not be a revelation, but we have established that it is far too easy for minors to create over-18 accounts on YouTube and further more access over-18 videos. However, over 18’s videos on YouTube are on some occasions not worthy of the over-18’s label. What many consider to be adult material, i.e. Over 18’s content, is not available on YouTube. For the most part, 18’s videos on YouTube tend to be material that may in rare circumstances offend. Perhaps YouTube new initiative (Safe Channel) will go some way to prevent minors gaining access to these videos.”
Well done, guys.