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YouTube Videos Consumed by Kids and Teens Are Often Devoid of Diversity or Perpetuate Racial, Ethnic, and Gender stereotypes

YouTube Videos Consumed by Kids and Teens Are Often Devoid of Diversity or Perpetuate Racial, Ethnic, and Gender stereotypes

For young children (age 0 to 8), time spent on video-sharing sites like YouTube now exceeds time spent watching television, and tweens and teens (age 9 to 18) say YouTube is the site they wouldn’t want to live without if forced to choose. But much of the content they consume on YouTube is either devoid of characters of color or includes biased and stereotypical representations of race, gender, and ethnicity, according to a new report released today from Common Sense Media.

The report, “Who Is the ‘You’ in YouTube? Missed Opportunities in Race and Representation in Children’s YouTube Videos,” is a follow-up to Common Sense Media’s 2021 “Inclusion Imperative” report and is the first time researchers have examined hundreds of hours of YouTube content through the lens of kids’ ethnic-racial development. According to the report, 62% of YouTube videos watched by kids 8 and under featured no Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) characters. Another 10% included only shallow or stereotyped portrayals of BIPOC characters, and when BIPOC characters were prominently featured, the videos were significantly more likely to include interpersonal violence (27% compared to 16% of videos with prominent White characters), bad language (32% vs. 13%), and marginally higher drinking, drugs, and smoking (7% vs. 2%). In addition, videos featuring prominent BIPOC characters had lower overall educational quality. Only 18% of videos featuring BIPOC characters carried educational quality, compared to about 30% of those with White characters.

Analysis of how frequently BIPOC characters appear and how they’re portrayed in content on YouTube is critically needed, given the platform’s popularity, influence, and ability to shape children’s experiences through social validation, viral content, and recommendation feeds. “Young children and teens are like sponges, soaking up every image and message they consume,” says Déjà Rollins, a doctoral student studying race and media effects who co-authored the report. “And because they lack the media literacy skills we often develop in adulthood, the hours of stereotypical and racially disproportionate YouTube content they consume can play a critical role in their overall identity formation and understanding of the world they live in. We know the kids are on YouTube, that’s a fact, so that’s exactly where we went to investigate who and what dominated the content of our sample.” The report, conducted in partnership with the University of Michigan, analyzed more than 1,242 YouTube videos watched by younger kids, tweens, and teens, representing 344 hours of content. Comparatively, content consumed by tweens and teens fared slightly better than videos viewed by younger kids when it came to including more diversity and positive portrayals of BIPOC characters. For tweens and teens, more videos contained BIPOC characters than those viewed by the age 0 to 8 group (61% contained at least one BIPOC character vs. 38%), but the majority of characters were still overwhelmingly White. In videos watched by this older age group, a lower proportion of videos with prominent BIPOC characters (18%) contained violence compared to those without prominent BIPOC characters (25%).

“While YouTube has taken some steps to include more diverse voices on its platform, it’s clear that kids are still watching content that features negative racial and ethnic stereotypes,” says Michael Robb, PhD, who co-authored the report. “YouTube certainly has the power to be the platform that gets it right on diverse representation, but right now it is still missing that opportunity, particularly with respect to content viewed by kids.” The authors of the report recommend that YouTube could take a number of steps to help their viewers access more diverse content, such as updating their algorithm to avoid inadvertently favoring biased and racist content, especially in kids’ videos, and considering the addition of experts to review a selection of trending videos and identify where questionable and biased portrayals are spreading fast so that they could be removed.

“Having more sets of eyes examining content before it gets posted on YouTube could really make a difference in the ways that inclusivity is reflected on media platforms,” says Enrica Bridgewater, a doctoral student studying media and identity development who co-authored the report. “As one of the most influential media platforms, YouTube could help kids along their own personal journeys to figuring out what their various identities mean to them, and that is a big deal.”

Last year, in tandem with the Inclusion Imperative report, Common Sense Media added a new rating for diverse representations to help families and educators identify media that shows acceptance and inclusion. Since its launch, more than 2,424 titles have been rated to assess representations, diverse or otherwise.

Other Key Findings:

  • YouTube videos viewed by children do not reflect the ethnic diversity of young children, tweens, and teens across the U.S. For children age 0–8, the greatest discrepancies between the U.S. Census and YouTube representation occurred among Black, Latino, and multiracial groups. For children 9–18, the greatest discrepancies between the U.S. Census and YouTube representation occurred among Latino and multiracial groups.
  • For tweens and teens, ethnic-racial stereotypes, including the use of inappropriate accents, the N-word, or jokes with ethnic-racial themes, appeared in about 1 in 10 videos on average. This means that if tweens and teens watched 10 YouTube videos a day for a year, they might see 300 videos depicting stereotypes of BIPOC characters.
  • Gender stereotypes went hand in hand with ethnic-racial stereotypes in videos watched by tweens and teens. Videos that had ethnic-racial stereotypes were significantly more likely to also contain gender stereotypes (55%) compared to those without ethnic-racial stereotypes (18%) in videos watched by tweens and teens.
  • Teaching about race and ethnicity was extremely rare. Of the 1,242 videos watched by children in the study, only two (0.002%) discussed race and ethnicity.

Methodology

Common Sense Media and the University of Michigan analyzed YouTube videos watched by 114 young children (age 0 to 8), collected March through April 2020, and by 140 tween/teens (age 9 to 18), collected June through July 2021. Parents or children provided a list of the last videos they had watched on the main YouTube site, which were coded for ethnic-racial representation (1,242 videos in total).

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