Big Changes Coming: YouTube’s Stricter Rules on Gun Content Explained

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YouTube is finally updating its firearm video policy to prevent potentially dangerous content from reaching underage users. The platform, owned by Google, announced that it will ban videos demonstrating how to remove firearm safety devices. Moreover, videos showcasing the creation of homemade firearms, demonstrations involving automatic weapons, and presentations featuring certain accessories like silencers, will now be restricted to users aged 18 and above.

These updates, slated to take effect on June 18, have been spurred by relentless appeals from gun safety advocates who have been advocating for YouTube to enhance its measures in safeguarding young users against exposure to firearm-related content. The concern is that such exposure could traumatize children or lead them toward extremism and violence.

YouTube, which hosts a significant community of “gunfluencers” who promote firearms and accessories, already prohibits content aimed at selling firearms or instructing viewers on how to make their own. It also disallows livestreams showing individuals handling firearms. Despite these rules, YouTube acknowledges that some content, while not technically violating its policies, may still be inappropriate for children. Exceptions exist for videos with significant public interest, such as news reports, war footage, or police operations.

The Tech Transparency Project views this policy change as a step in the right direction but questions the delay in its implementation. They plan to monitor how effectively YouTube enforces the new rule, emphasizing that the true test of YouTube’s commitment lies in its enforcement.

Previous research by the Tech Transparency Project highlighted the severity of the issue. They created YouTube accounts that mimicked 9-year-old boys interested in video games. They found that YouTube’s recommendation system directed these accounts to graphic videos of school shootings, tactical gun training, and instructions on making firearms fully automatic. Some videos even featured children handling guns or shooters using high-powered firearms in violent scenarios, violating YouTube’s policies against violent or gory content.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg recently urged YouTube to curb the spread of firearm-related videos to young users, criticizing the company for not enforcing its own policies. He cautiously praised the new policy, recognizing the algorithm’s role in exposing young users to dangerous content.

YouTube explained that the policy updates were necessary to address new developments, such as the rise of 3D-printed guns. YouTube has implemented a requirement for users under the age of 17 to secure parental permission before gaining access to the platform. Additionally, accounts belonging to users under the age of 13 are automatically linked to a parental account for enhanced monitoring and oversight. YouTube claims to regularly review its guidelines and consult with external experts to ensure its policies are up-to-date.

As one of the most popular sites among children and teens, YouTube, along with TikTok, has faced scrutiny for hosting and sometimes promoting videos that encourage gun violence, eating disorders, and self-harm. Given that several mass shooters have used social media to glorify violence or even livestream their attacks, these new measures are intended to curb the spread of dangerous firearm-related content and protect young users from being exposed to material that could lead them down a path of violence and extremism.

Regarding potential violations of rights, YouTube, as a private company, has the authority to set and enforce its own content policies. While users may feel that these policies infringe on their freedom of expression, YouTube’s terms of service, which users agree to upon creating an account, grant the platform the right to regulate content. Therefore, these new rules do not violate constitutional rights but reflect YouTube’s efforts to create a safer environment for all users, especially minors.