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Child Influencers on YouTube Are Increasingly Promoting Junk Food, New Study Finds

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  • A new study that looked at food promotions among the top five kid influencers on YouTube in 2019 found that 94% of food featured on the channels were junk food items.
  • The study is the first-ever done regarding kid influencers and food product placement.
  • Among other influencers, the study found that Ryan Kaji of Ryan’s World has often promoted unhealthy food, sometimes without properly disclosing that the content was an ad.
  • Numerous studies have found that children are much more susceptible to advertising. According to the new report, coded advertising that blends with the show is especially effective, a practice seen in many kid influencer videos.
  • The kinds of advertising noted in the study have long been banned on children’s TV programs, and now some are calling for similar regulations on YouTube.

New Study Findings

YouTube’s top child influencers have been increasingly promoting and marketing junk food to their young viewers, according to a new study published Monday by the journal Pediatrics.

According to the authors of the study, it is the first-ever of its kind that has examined “the extent to which kid influencers include food and beverage product placements in their YouTube videos.”

To conduct the study, researchers identified the top five most-watched kid influencers in 2019, and then searched for “50 of their most-watched videos and 50 of their videos that featured food and/or drinks on the thumbnail image of the video.”

In the sample of 418 videos met the search criteria, a total of 179 —  nearly 40% — featured food or drinks, and of those products, the vast majority were unhealthy.

According to the study’s findings, 90% of all food and drink shown in the kids’ videos were unhealthy branded items like McDonald’s, followed by 4% of unhealthy unbranded items like hotdogs. Both healthy branded and unbranded food and drink composed just over 5% of all products featured.

Those numbers are particularly concerning because according to the researchers, just the 179 videos that featured food racked up 1 billion views and over 16 million impressions for those food and drink products.

Ryan’s World

The findings of the study are highly significant, especially as the videos cited come from kids who have a massive influence on the platform, like 8-year-old Ryan Kaji of Ryan’s World.

Not only is Ryan easily the largest child influencer on YouTube, he is also one of the largest creators on the platform period. According to Forbes, he was the highest-earning YouTuber in 2019, bringing in an estimated $26 million last year alone.

In addition to his nearly 27 million subscribers, according to the Pediactrics study, his videos also account for over 64% of all views on every video ever produced by the top five child influencers analyzed.

Ryan’s scope is specifically relevant when it comes to the promotion of unhealthy food. According to The New York Times, some of the brands Ryan has been paid to promote include fast-food chains like Chuck E. Cheese, Lunchables, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and others.

For example, both The Times and the Pediatrics study noted that one of his most popular videos shows him pretending to be a cashier at McDonald’s. In it, he wears a hat with the McDonald’s logo, serves plastic McDonald’s products to one of his toys, and then eats a McDonald’s Happy Meal. That video alone has been viewed nearly 95 million times.

Notably, Ryan’s World has been accused of not properly disclosing sponsorships in the past– including fast-food ads. Just last year, several senators accused the channel of running ads for Carl’s Jr. without disclosing that they were sponsored commercials and called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate.

Other groups have also made similar accusations against Ryan’s World, but it is by no means alone. To make matters more complicated, the authors of the Pediatrics study were also unable to tell when child influencers had been paid to promote the unhealthy products because they were not always clearly disclosed.

The FTC requires influencers to disclose any and all paid promotions, but as The Time’s notes, “critics say the policy is rarely enforced, and that influencers often ignore it.”

Other Issues

When it comes to kid influencers, the lack of proper disclosure is distinctly alarming because of the way these promotions are already ingrained in these child-targeted videos.

“The way these branded products are integrated in everyday life in these videos is pretty creative and unbelievable,” Marie Bragg, one of the authors of the study explained. “It’s a stealthy and powerful way of getting these unhealthy products in front of kids’ eyeballs.”

Other experts also noted that the power of these stealthy promotions is also amplified by the fact that parents may not realize or understand that their children are watching advertisements for fast food.

“These videos are incredibly powerful. Very busy parents may take a look at them and think that it’s just a cute kid talking enthusiastically about some product and not realize that it’s often part of a deliberate strategy to get their children excited about toys, or in the case of this study, unhealthy food,” said Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“Young children view the stars of these videos as peers and friends and don’t understand that the reason YouTube stars like Ryan are so enthusiastic about products featured in there is because they are stealth marketers,” he added.

That last point is particularly noteworthy because young kids are especially susceptible to marketing. Studies have shown that children cannot distinguish between commercials and cartoons until they are eight or nine years old and that they are more likely to prefer junk food after seeing ads for them.

So when those ads are integrated into the videos kids are watching without any kind of disclosure or differentiation, everything just gets blended together even more, which can be especially potent when it comes to YouTube videos.

“My concern is that these ads may be like TV commercials on steroids,” said Bragg. “Kids watch on autoplay, which means they’ll see the same type of programming over and over again. Instead of 10 minutes of ads throughout a 30-minute TV show, they can end up seeing the same product over and over again.”

The idea that products promoted by children on YouTube could be an even more effective marketing technique than normal television ads targeted towards children is specifically distressing because that kind of advertising is in fact illegal on television.

For years, the FTC has long banned what is known as “host selling” on children’s television, which is where characters or hosts on a show try to sell products in commercials that air during those programs. However, those rules do not apply to YouTube, where hosts and characters can promote products during their shows.

While that practice has become commonplace, the issue becomes stickier when it comes to kids.

Next Steps

With these growing concerns, many people — including the authors of the study — have been calling for more regulation.

Some have specifically pointed to a piece of legislation proposed in March by Senators Ed Markey (D-Ma.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) which, among other things, would limit what they called “manipulative” advertising, like influencer marketing aimed at kids. 

Even without legislation, the authors of the study also hope that the new awareness around kid influencers and junk food product placement brings change to the industry.

In a statement to The Times, Sunlight Entertainment, the production company for Ryan’s World, said that the channel, “cares deeply about the well-being of our viewers and their health and safety is a top priority for us. As such, we strictly follow all platforms terms of service, as well as any guidelines set forth by the FTC and laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels.”

“As we continue to evolve our content we look forward to ways we might work together in the future to benefit the health and safety of our audience,” the company said, adding that Ryan’s World welcomed the findings of the study.

However, without set regulations in place, it is unclear if Ryan’s World and other kid influencer channels will be held accountable, especially given their alleged track record of disobeying existing rules.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (U.S. News & World Report)

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Trisha Paytas Departs From “Frenemies” Podcast With Ethan Klein

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The announcement came after Paytas and co-host Ethan Klein engaged in a heated argument on the most recent episode of their show.


Paytas and Klein Argue

YouTuber Trisha Paytas announced Tuesday that they are stepping down from the “Frenemies” podcast with Ethan Klein. 

Paytas, who uses they/them pronouns, posted a 22-minute long video explaining their decision. The departure comes after Paytas and Klein got in a heated argument on the most recent episode of “Frenemies,” which paying members had access to on Monday and the general public received access to on Tuesday. 

The dispute started when Paytas appeared unenthusiastic about a new advice segment that was added to the show. Klein then made a comment about how Paytas contributes nothing to “Frenemies” and just shows up to film, which ignited a fight about creative differences the two have when it comes to the production of the podcast.

Paytas seemed overall frustrated that they do not have more input on the show and that their ideas are allegedly often dismissed.

“I never pick the costumes, I never do the Vlogs, I give so many ideas,” they said. “I say dancing for the vlogs, I give all these ideas and you don’t…I don’t think it’s a good segment.” 

Paytas also mentioned that they get no say on new hires even though Klein uses 5% of the podcast’s revenue, as well as money earned from highlight episodes of the podcast, to pay the crew and cover production costs. Klein, however, argued that he does not need to run new hires by Paytas because those people are hired as employees for his production company, H3 Productions, which produces and airs “Frenemies.”

These are employees of our production company,” he said.

“It’s literally about we are producing the show and I am taking a cut, I feel like that is beyond reasonable,” he later added. 

Klein claimed that he already gives Paytas 50% of everything else, which he argues is an incredibly good deal considering H3 Productions does all the backend work. Paytas still felt differently and said that “Frenemies” should have its own employees. 

After the argument escalated, Paytas walked off the set holding back tears and the episode ended. Many found Paytas’ comments, specifically the ones referencing the crew and their pay, to be rude and disrespectful. 

Paytas Leaves “Frenemies”

On Tuesday morning, Paytas posted a video announcing and explaining their departure. They claimed that the crew was frustrated and did not want to film with Paytas the next day, partially because the segment Paytas had slammed came from a new hire. 

Paytas stressed that wanting more money was not their issue. Instead, they said they truly just wanted the show to be more of a 50/50 partnership creatively. Paytas said that while they understand Klein produces the show, they would have loved to pitch in on producing as well, but often just felt like an outsider. 

“I do feel like I contributed half to Frenemies, building the H3 channel,” Paytas explained. “Like I would have loved to have Frenemies on my channel and build up my channel. I could have produced it, I could have built sets, I’m capable of this stuff.” 

Paytas also clarified that they have no issue with the crew. While Paytas said they were not sorry for bringing these issues up, they were sorry for how the message was delivered. 

They added that in the end, they really felt like they brought an underappreciated value to the show. Paytas also said that in the beginning of this partnership, they were under the impression that they would be building something entirely new with Klein. 

“If I knew I was coming in as a third H3 show, like I swear hand to god I would not have done it,” they said.

Paytas added a lengthy comment below the video after it was posted, saying they were leaving “to ease the tension everywhere.”

“I don’t want to be the toxicity in their machine,” Paytas continued. “And I can feel that I am. And it’s not good for anyone involved.”

Klein and Paytas Lash Out on Twitter

Klein responded to the video on Tuesday. In two posts he joked about it being National Best Friend’s Day and asked what he should do with the 4,000 “Frenemies” hoodies he has. In a more serious tweet, he said he was “gutted” about the situation. 

Trisha’s video this morning was a total surprise to me,” he added. “I don’t really know what more I can say or do. I’m very sorry to all the fans of frenemies, I know how much it meant to everyone, I did everything I humanly could to save it.”

Things escalated later in the day when Paytas posted a second video further explaining their decision to leave the podcast. They said the last thing they ever wanted to do was disrespect the crew, and again emphasized that money was never their issue.

Paytas also acknowledged that they should have never brought up money on the podcast or in front of the crew in the first place. Things, however, continued to spiral on Twitter as Paytas and Klein engaged in a stormy back-and-forth. 

Among other things, Klein said he was angry that Paytas’ fans were sending hate to the crew members online. He said he reached out to Paytas because he was upset with the way they handled things but said he will ultimately always cherish his experience making “Frenemies.”

Paytas responded to him and insisted they were never rude to the crew themself. Paytas also shared text messages, accusing Klein of being misleading and flip-flopping on how the money for production costs was spent. Paytas is receiving a considerable amount of backlash for one of the texts they shared, as one screenshot shows them making an antisemitic remark to Klein. 

Crew members also engaged in online discourse about the news, including Dan from H3 Productions, who accused Paytas of lying in their videos. According to Dan, the crew was actually fully prepared to film with Paytas the next day and Klein was the one to cancel the shoot. 

Dan also said that the new hire was not the person who came up with the segment Paytas took issue with and instead was just the person who presented and prepared it.

Klein and Paytas later deleted most of their tweets attacking each other. Both said they should not have aired those feelings and messages on Twitter.

Paytas Apologizes To Fans and Klein

On Wednesday morning, Paytas apologized to Klein and others who worked on “Frenemies,” saying they were “embarrassed” by the situation. In a separate tweet, Paytas apologized to fans for ending things so turbulently.

“I feel horrible,” they wrote. “This is the worst feeling to see people think I’m this heartless monster who doesn’t do anything wrong. I have been in the wrong so many times on frenemies, they’ve been really wonderful to me.”

Paytas then uploaded a third video titled “I’m Sorry.” In it, they said the whole situation had been blown out of proportion and that the first two videos were meant to clarify issues but only made things worse. They again apologized for leaving the podcast and for disappointing fans. 

“I don’t know how to make the situation right…I don’t know what to do,” Paytas said.

See what others are saying: (Mashable) (Insider) (Paper)

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Showtime Will Process Refunds After Crashing During Paul Vs. Mayweather Fight

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Many said they were unable to watch the highly anticipated pay-per-view event because of technical difficulties.


Showtime To Issue Refunds

Showtime is processing refunds for customers who could not watch Sunday’s highly anticipated fight between YouTuber Logan Paul and boxing champion Floyd Mayweather because of technical difficulties on the streaming platform. 

The night of the event, Twitter was full of users complaining that Showtime had crashed during the fight. The company released a statement saying it was “aware that some customers have been having trouble accessing tonight’s Pay Per View event” and was “working diligently to resolve the issue and will redress customers appropriately.”

Showtime Support’s Twitter account later told people to return to the event in ten minutes, though that still did not resolve the issue for many viewers.

In a tweet on Monday, the service said anyone who purchased the fight via Showtime’s website or app but was unable to watch it could request a refund. 

What Happened During the Fight?

The fight ultimately lasted eight rounds, ending without a knockout or winner. After the match, Mayweather said Paul was “better” than he anticipated. 

“He’s a tough, rough competitor,” he continued. “It was good action, to have fun and I was surprised by him tonight. Good little work, good guy.” 

“I don’t want anyone to tell me anything is impossible ever again,” Paul told reporters. “The fact that I’m in here with one of the greatest boxers of all time proves that the odds can be beat.”

A report from The New York Times said that both Paul and Mayweather “assuredly took home millions” from the event, but exactly how much they made is still a mystery.

See what others are saying: (The Hollywood Reporter) (The New York Times) (The Wrap)

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Amouranth Says Twitch Suspended Ads on Her Channel Without Warning

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Amouranth claims Twitch never specified what made her channel unsuitable for ads, but many have pointed to her controversial hot tub streams, which are technically allowed under the platform’s guidelines.


Amouranth Reveals Twitch Ad Suspension

Twitch streamer Kaitlyn Siragusa, known online as Amouranth, said Tuesday that the platform indefinitely suspended ads on her channel without any warning or communication. 

Siragusa has become known for her hot tub streams, a trend that has recently stirred controversy on Twitch. The platform’s terms of service technically allow streamers to wear bathing suits so long as they provide appropriate coverage and the person is streaming from a location where swimwear is standard attire. Hut tub streams fit this bill, but some believe they cross a line and are in bad taste. Others, however, think the largely female streamers participating in the trend should be allowed to continue these streams and are doing no harm.

Twitch has largely stayed out of this issue, though the company previously said it had its eyes on the situation. Now, according to Siragusa, the company might be taking a stand. 

“Yesterday I was informed that Twitch has Indefinitely Suspended Advertising on my channel,” she wrote on Twitter, claiming the company did not reach out to tell her. 

“I had to initiate the conversation after noticing, without any prior warning, all the ads revenue had disappeared from my Channel Analytics.”

“This is an ALARMING precedent,” she continued. She claimed that even if content falls within the site’s terms of service, Twitch has the ability to “target individual channels” and decide what is and is not “advertiser friendly” even though there are no clear guidelines for this. 

“There is no known policy for what results in a streamer being put on this blacklist,” Siragusa added. “With characteristic opacity, The only thing twitch made clear is that it is unclear whether or when my account can be reinstated.”

While it looks like Twitch never specified what about her channel was not advertiser-friendly, people have unsurprisingly pointed to her hot tub streams. Twitch has not issued a comment on the matter, but its alleged decision to demonetize Siragusa would be a major one. According to Kotaku, the platform has never used its power to demonetize a creator before. 

Creators Respond to Amouranth’s Claim

Online, some have cheered Twitch’s alleged decision while others have slammed the platform for its lack of communication. Several creators have echoed Siragusa’s concerns that it sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to what kind of content the site can crack down on. 

“Why is it that they just didn’t come over and say, ‘stop doing this, or we are going to demonetize you.’ You know what I mean?” streamer Asmongold asked during a stream on Tuesday. 

“Look, I understand people are getting a hard-on because they’re happy this thing happened because they don’t like hot tub streamers, I get that,” he continued. “But you understand what she’s saying, she’s not wrong! She’s not wrong in saying this, this is true. And them not talking to her at all about it?” 

Streamer and adult film star Mia Malkova shared his concerns and confusion about Twitch not reaching out to Siragusa first. 

No statement/warning is ridiculous and no way to treat the people that use their platform,” Malkova said in a tweet to Siragusa. 

On Twitter, streamer Devin Nash called out those who celebrated the demonetization, claiming that while some users might agree with Twitch in this instance, the move could impact a creator they support in the future.

If you think this stops at sexual content, think again,” he wrote.

One of Twitch’s most popular streamers, xQc, who was previously very critical of hut tub streams, seemed to imply that he felt Siragusa’s demonetization signaled a potential issue for everyone on Twitch. He encouraged people to “chill out” until there is more communication from Twitch on the matter, but added that this means “things are a little bit adaptive” on the site. 

There’s a lot of people that do the same content that she does,” he said on a Tuesday stream. “And if everybody does the same content, and something was [against the terms of service], if one got banned, you guys would all say, ‘Look at the other guys that aren’t being banned.’ But now that this is against her and she loses her ads, nobody is saying, ‘But what about the other guys? Why aren’t they losing their ads?’” 

He later added that this move “might have saved everybody from losing their ads” and that Siragusa “might be a scapegoat” for other streamers, but did not elaborate on that point. 

See what others are saying: (Kotaku) (The Verge) (BBC News)

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