Hawley Bill Targets YouTube Algorithm

Another day, another bill targeting big tech from freshman Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley.

According to his office early Thursday (June 6), the Protecting Children from Online Predators Act follows a New York Times report that YouTube algorithms "funnel" videos of partially clad children to pedophiles by recommending videos with fleeting frames of partially undressed kids to those who have viewed sexually themed content or videos of young children.

"To make matters worse," said a summary of the Hawley bill, "some of these videos are linked to the kids’ social media accounts. Pedophiles who find these videos on YouTube’s recommendation then contact those children and try to “groom” them “into posting more sexualized pictures or engaging in sexual activity and having it videotaped.”

Hawley gave YouTube some credit for trying to tweak its algorithm and limit some recommendations in response to the story, but that isn't enough for Hawley, who wants a blanket prohibition on sharing most child-related videos given the potential for abuse.

Hawley's bill "bans recommending videos that feature children," and "prohibits video-hosting websites from recommending videos that feature minors," though such videos could still appear in search.

There are exceptions for videos that simply have minors in the background and professionally produced content, like a prime time talent competition.

The bill would impose criminal penalties and fines for violators.

"The vast majority of videos featuring minors on YouTube, including those referenced in recent news reports, do not violate our policies and are innocently posted — a family creator providing educational tips, or a parent sharing a proud moment," said YouTube in a blog post responding to the Times story. "But when it comes to kids, we take an extra cautious approach towards our enforcement and we’re always making improvements to our protections. Here are a few updates we’ve made over the past several months

Hawley has made cracking down on Big Tech his signature issue.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.