Friday, November 22, 2019

Cereal At Midnight, COPPA, and the FTC

In the last few days, we've been contacted many times asking us about Cereal At Midnight and COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Bree and I appreciate your concern and all your comments, advice, and suggestions. Cereal At Midnight has not, nor ever will, make content targeted at children, which is the main concern of the COPPA act. Yet, with YouTube's violation of COPPA, which resulted in a fine of $170 million dollars, the platform has rolled out vast, over-reaching changes that include penalties to be enforced by the FTC. These penalties, if left as they currently stand, will drastically alter YouTube and silence thousands, if not millions, of channels and fan voices.

We have not been contacted about any of our content, and we believe that there's simply no case to be made that our videos, articles, and news items are geared toward those under 13. However, the language of the act itself is concerning in its vagueness. We stand with creators and their voices. We stand with channels that create videos about toys, comic books, video games, and cartoons. We believe the adult perspective should not be penalized in these over-reaching statements from the US Federal Trade Commission.

With that in mind, we have commented directly to the FTC with our thoughts on what's happening. If you are remotely concerned about the channels and the creators that you love and support on YouTube being silenced, we encourage you to make your voice heard. We have until January to speak out, and the FTC has openly requested comments on this issue, which implies that they're looking for outside voices to make sure they're taking appropriate action. You can contact the FTC and let them know how you feel using this link: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FTC-2019-0054-0001

Please do.

Furthermore, in the course of full transparency, our message to the FTC is included below so that all can see. This comment is also publicly visible at federal site linked above.

-Heath

"To the FTC, 

I am writing in regard to the COPPA changes that are headed to YouTube in the coming weeks. As an adult user of YouTube for many years as well as a content creator, the broad nature of the act seems troubling. There are millions of adults on YouTube who enjoy watching and creating videos about comic books, toys, cartoons, and video games. The COPPA guidelines state that the FTC will be enforcing strict fines and penalties on those channels that make videos which deal with “child attractive” subject matter, but this doesn’t seem to take into account those videos that cover the topics mentioned above from an adult perspective geared toward an adult audience. The overwhelming majority of these videos comes from the fan community, not from corporations with financial interests. 

More troubling is the subjectivity that must be used in determining what content is for kids and what content is for adults. THERE ARE NO SPECIFIC GUIDELINES TO INDICATE WHAT CONSTITUTES AS “FOR CHILDREN” AND “FOR ADULTS.” The language of the new enforcement is alarmingly vague, with YouTube simply telling their creators that such child-geared content includes “characters, celebrities, or toys that appeal to children, including animated characters or cartoon figures.” What criteria decides if a video about something that has massive widespread pop culture appeal is for adults or children? Subject matter alone is NOT an indication. For example: what about a widely-popular topic such as comic book superheroes and the billion dollar superhero movie industry, including characters like Spider-Man, The Avengers, Batman, or Superman? What about the movie “Joker,” which is rated R but features a recognizable character from comics, cartoons, and toys? Star Wars is another brand that has widespread pop culture saturation across movies, toys, comics, and video games. Will content creators and videos that deal with these subjects from an adult perspective be considered to be “child directed” and “child attractive?” 


There are many voices that will be silenced if this over-reaching act does not take into account the significant number of creators and videos that deal with the subjects mentioned, but that are not, and never have been, targeted toward children. At the end of the day, I believe that parents should ultimately be responsible for what their children see, especially since parents already have tools at their disposal to regulate and control the content that their children are exposed to on YouTube. The COPPA act should not hold the many responsible for the actions of the few, nor should the passionate fan be penalized for the actions of large corporations. I also believe that the language of the act needs to be clarified to reflect that the FTC is not going to pursue adult content creators making videos for other adults, nor should those creators be penalized by having their videos demonetized or having their comments turned off. The goal of COPPA should be protecting children, not silencing millions of voices who never targeted children through their content, but are simply enthusiasts of pop culture. The wonderful thing about YouTube is that it gives everyone a voice and platform to express themselves freely. That freedom should be preserved, not removed. 


In summary, I believe that COPPA should not pursue adult enthusiasts of properties that some may view as “child attractive,” as the definition of that term is subjective and completely open to interpretation. I believe that the guidelines of the act are both vague in language and restrictive against those who have not, nor ever will, target children with their videos. And finally, I believe that the ultimate control of what children see on the internet should be up to their parents themselves. 


Thank you."

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