YouTube Tightens Gun Video Policies to Shield Underage Viewers


YouTube, the video-sharing titan owned by Google, has announced an evolution of its policies on firearm videos in an attempt to obstruct potentially harmful content from accessing its underage viewers. This sharp policy pivot, slated to take effect on June 18, arrives on the heels of continued pressure from gun safety advocates imploring the platform to strengthen safeguards to prevent gun-related content from infiltrating and potentially desensitizing the youngest members of their audience.

In a bold move to combat harmful content, Youtube’s newly minted rules will take a a stringent stance on videos that demonstrate intricate details of firearm construction, operation and modifications. The prohibition extends to videos illustrating the removal of firearm safety measures, those constructing homemade guns and automatic weapons, as well as content portraying the uses of specific firearm accessories like silencers. All such content will be stringently restricted to only adult users aged 18 and above.

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Focus now shifts to the efficacy of the new ruling. Katie Paul, spearheading the Tech Transparency Project, heralded YouTube’s policy revamp as a significant stride forward, while simultaneously questioning the protracted period it took for such a modification to emerge. Paul further expressed her intention to scrutinize the manner in which YouTube enforces this new rule.

With ‘firearms ranking as the primary cause of death among American children and teens’, as illuminated by Paul, the effectiveness of a platform’s policy lies in its committed enforcement. As long as harmful firearm and gun violence content is not sufficiently curtailed from reaching the impressionable eyes of minors, these policies, Paul warns, stand at risk of being just ’empty words’.

To reinforce her argument, Paul highlighted a study conducted by her group last year. Devising ‘9-year-old boy’ YouTube accounts with videogames listed as an interest, they discovered a nexus of unsettling video recommendations for these childlike accounts. The recommendations included explicit videos of school shootings, tactical gun training tutorials and instructions on transforming firearms into fully automatic weapons. These findings amplify an even stronger calling for robust content moderation on the platform.

In recent times, the usability of social media and video streaming platforms by mass shooting perpetrators to glorify violence and in some instances, livestream their heinous acts, has drawn global attention, adding a needed urgency to the policy changes on YouTube.

Last month, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg trumpeted a clarion call for YouTube to clamp down on the proliferation of firearm-related videos to young users. He admonished the company for its slack enforcement of its own norms. With the announcement of YouTube’s new governing policy, Bragg praised the actions of the company.

YouTube’s changed guidelines, as narrated by company spokesman Javier Hernandez, are calibrated to mirror the evolution of new developments such as the increased access to 3D-printed guns. The digital company mandates underage users to secure parental consent prior to using the platform, with accounts linked to parents for users below 13. YouTube, along with TikTok, remains a hotspot for children and teens, prompting persistent scrutiny due to instances of hosting and, in some cases, promoting concerning content such as gun violence, eating disorders, and self-harm.

Adapting the platform’s guidelines in consultation with external experts, YouTube is devoted to ‘drawing the line at the right place’, ensuring their measures stay relevant, impactful and ultimately, safe for their global audience.