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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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Twitch Shares Its First-Ever Transparency Report, but Critics Want More Accountability

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  • Twitch released its first-ever Transparency Report on Tuesday in a continued effort to address toxic and harmful behavior on the platform.
  • While Twitch listed several statistics detailing how it’s taken action, many still accused the platform of ignoring user complaints.
  • The Anti-Defamation League also argued that Twitch’s report lacked additional vital data, including a list of the specific communities being targeted by hate speech on the streaming site.
  • The complaints against Twitch’s transparency culminated when a staff member directly told users that the platform would not be addressing why Dr Disrespect, a popular streamer, was permanently banned in June 2020.

Twitch’s Transparency Report

Twitch released its first-ever transparency report on Tuesday as part of a continued attempt to reduce hateful conduct, sexual harassment, violence, gore, nudity, and even terrorist propaganda on the platform.

In the report, Twitch notes that over the past year, it’s “made a 4X increase in the number of content moderation professionals available to respond to user reports.” In other words, Twitch is saying that it’s now much more likely users’ reports will be processed soon after being filed. 

Despite this, Twitch stopped short of saying how many moderators it actually employs.

In another statistic, Twitch said at least 92% of live content viewed on the platform last year “occurred in channels with chat that was moderated either by active moderators, or AutoMod, or both.”

Source: Twitch

Throughout the report, Twitch continues to list similar stats, including that the total number of enforcement actions on the platform rose 41% between the first and second half of the year.

Calls for More Accountability

Reaction to the data set has been mixed. While WIRED described the report “as a victory lap for [Twitch’s] recent moderation efforts,” the platform is still being plagued by criticism that it failed to ever take action against some user complaints.  

“I had [a] person send me repeated death threats and threats of violence,” one person tweeted. “I reported it to you several times providing screen shots and you took literally 0 action. If you are going to flex about keep people safe you might want to actually do something instead of whatever this is.”

Likewise, the Anti-Defamation League noted that Twitch’s report contains no information on specific communities being targeted by hate on the platform. 

As Nathan Grayson, a writer for Kotaku, noted, “The report contains a handful of other, similar data sets, most of which paint Twitch in a favorable light. Certainly, they’re a useful measure of Twitch’s growth in these areas… The problem with these kinds of reports, however, is that they have a way of appearing to say a lot while revealing very little.”

“Twitch has offered numbers and a small amount of context, but streamers and viewers remain in the dark on major issues that came to light last year,” Grayson continued.

Part of that involves last year’s permanent ban against Dr Disrespect, who was booted off Twitch in June after years of streaming and even a multi-year deal with the platform. To this day, it’s still unclear exactly what precipitated the ban. 

It also looks like (at least for now) it’s going to stay that way.

That’s because during Twitch’s Transparency Report Breakdown, one user popped into the chat and asked, “Any Dr. Disrespect news??”

Instead of Twitch ignoring the comment, a staff member flat out said, “no.”

Source: Twitch
See what others are saying: (Kotaku) (Dexerto) (Wired)

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James Charles Denies Grooming Allegations

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  • Over the weekend, a 16-year-old who goes by Isaiyah accused 21-year-old YouTuber James Charles of grooming him.
  • Isaiyah shared censored versions of nude photos James allegedly sent him as well as Snapchat messages showing the YouTuber allegedly asking for explicit photos. 
  • James denied the accusations, saying Isaiyah initiated contact with him, sent lewd photos first, and told him he was 18. James also claimed that once he learned Isaiyah was 16, he stopped contact, though Isaiyah insists this is not the case.
  • Since then, two more people have come forward with their own stories detailing situations where they felt James acted inappropriately with them.

James Charles Accused of Grooming

James Charles is denying grooming allegations after a 16-year-old posted videos accusing the YouTuber of sending and asking for explicit photos. 

The accuser, who goes by Isaiyah, shared his allegations in videos on both Twitter and TikTok last week. On the latter platform, he has over 260,000 followers.

Isaiyah claims that he and James began talking on Snapchat on February 17, and he hoped the conversation would give him a chance to interact with an influencer he looked up to. However, Isaiah says James ended up making their conversation sexual. 

He shared photos of their interactions, including one snap where James is allegedly asking for Isaiyah to send videos taken in the shower. In another, James appears to mention Isaiyah’s genitals and says, “I bet you can make me finish just by flexing and showing off your hair.”

Isaiyah also shared censored nude and partially nude images that James allegedly sent, which he says prompted him to tell the YouTuber he is only 16.

“I was getting really uncomfortable so I told him my age and I told him I was 16 and meanwhile, he’s 21, he’s a grown man,” Isaiyah said in the video. “And then he proceeds to say, ‘oh but I didn’t get to see the….yet’ meaning my body. And after telling him no, like I’m not going to send it to you, like, he kept asking for videos and pictures of body hair and me flexing and stuff.” 

Even after this, Isaiyah claims James still asked to FaceTime with him. He ultimately said the interaction left him seeing James in a new way. 

“I’ve heard multiple stories about him doing this to people but you never believe it until it happens to you,” Isaiyah said. “So now, I’m a big believer of what James Charles does to other people.” 

Both TikTok and Twitter have since removed the videos detailing these accusations, according to Insider. 

James Charles Denies Allegations

On Friday, James took to Twitter to tell his side of the story. He called the grooming accusations “completely false.” He then said he found Isaiyah on Instagram’s explore page.

He said he noticed that Isaiyah followed him, so he decided to add him on Snapchat. James also claims he woke up to multiple messages from Isaiyah saying how excited he was to speak to him, as well as lewd photos from him.

“I asked how old he was right away and he told me he was 18 so I started flirting back,” James continued, adding that he never saw ID to verify his age. 

It’s now clear, based on the video he uploaded, he was taking photos of me with another device, and had an ulterior motive from the beginning,” he continued.

“Later in the day, he said a few things that made me question the validity of his original age answer and when I asked him to confirm his age once again, he admitted he was 16.”

“I told him I was really uncomfortable and apologized for flirting, but he insisted on continuing talking, saying it could be our little secret, he’s a fan of mine and would never tell anyone,” the post continued. “I told him I wasn’t okay with this, he started getting upset, and at this point I unfriended him. We haven’t spoken since.”

James wrote that he was not trying to victim blame or make himself out as the victim, but instead wanted to share his story because he has dealt with accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior in the past. Moving forward, he stressed that he will ask people for their ID or passports to verify their age before speaking with them. 

Isaiyah shot back at James’ statement and insisted the popular influencer was well aware of his age. 

“James we both know I blocked you, you never asked for my age. After I told you I was 16 you proceeded to ask me for nudes and said it didn’t matter,” he wrote. “You called me hot and said ‘I wish the timeline could speed up so you can be 18.’”

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

“If you’re gonna text someone, make sure you know their age,” he added in another tweet. “He added me on insta, my insta has my tik tok which shows me age.”

In another post, he said he would be contacting the police about the situation. 

More People Speak Out

At least two more people have since come forward with their own stories about James over the weekend. One said on Twitter that they told James they were 17-years-old, but the YouTuber still flirted with them on social media.

They said nothing sexual happened; however, it still felt weird, making them feel compelled to share the story as others were speaking out. Those tweets have since been deleted. 

Another person, who goes by LifeOfUzzy on Twitter, said they had a “disgusting” experience with James. In a lengthy Twitter thread, he shared screenshots of their messages and a video his brother recorded of him opening a Snapchat from James as proof of their interactions. He claims that things started out fine but took a turn when James began flirting.

“We started talking for a little and he was actually A VERY NICE person the first few days. He told me he wasn’t looking for anything until he started calling me ‘daddy’ and ‘babe,’ LifeOfUzzy wrote.

He then shared a video of James allegedly spamming him, asking to do a video call, and apparently asking him to do “disgusting things.”

LifeOfUzzy wrote that after James allegedly used him for “sexual pleasure,” he sent James a message ending things and asking him to delete the pictures he screenshotted. 

LifeOfUzzy explained more details in a series of TikToks and a YouTube video, claiming he was just looking to get to know James, but that James clearly had no interest in this and was asking him for specific and explicit pictures. He said James stopped talking to him after declined. 

James has not responded to these two newer allegations yet. 

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Cosmopolitan) (Dexerto)

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Former Member of David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad Says He Was Sexually Assaulted by Jason Nash on Video

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  • Former Vlog Squad member Seth Francois says he was sexually assaulted in a 2017 prank that YouTubers David Dobrik and Jason Nash pulled on him.
  • Francois agreed to be in a video where he would make out with fellow Vlog Squad member Corinna Kopf while she was disguised as an old man. However, the costumed person he actually kissed was 45-year-old Nash.
  • In 2018, Dobrik pulled a nearly identical prank on Francois again, despite Francois repeatedly stating he was not okay with what happened.
  • Francois says he is not trying to “cancel” anyone but his attempts to resolve the matter behind closed doors with Dobrik have not been successful, so he felt he had to tell his story publicly. 

Seth Francois Calls Kissing Prank Sexual Assault

Former Vlog Squad member Seth Francois says he was sexually assaulted in a prank that massive YouTuber David Dobrik pulled on him with fellow creator Jason Nash. 

Francois first told his story to Ethan and Hila Klein on the H3 Podcast on Feb. 12. The prank in question happened in 2017. At the time, Dobrik asked Francois if he wanted to be in a video where he made out with Corinna Kopf while she was disguised as an old man. Francois agreed, but when he kissed the costumed person, Kopf was not the one behind the mask. Instead, it was 45-year-old Nash. 

“I was touched by someone I did not consent to,” Francois said on the podcast. 

He told BuzzFeed News that it felt wrong when it happened, but as more time passed, he began to feel even worse. He decided to call a sexual assault hotline to talk about and processs the situation. 

“They said, ‘I’m sorry you were sexually assaulted.’ And I broke down,” Francois told the outlet. “I called my mother and some of my close friends and I said, ‘I can’t believe that happened to me.'”

Francois said Dobrik asked if they could make a similar video again, but Francois refused, explaining he did not like the prank and did not want to have to go through that again. Still, in 2018 Dobrik ended up pulling a nearly identical stunt. 

The second time, Dobrik told Francois that they were making a commercial for Jack Link’s Jerky, which Francois was thrilled about. When Francois got to the set, there were people in gorilla costumes, and he was instructed to make out with one. When that person took their mask off, it was Nash again. 

Francois said this incident ultimately led to him moving out of Los Angeles.

Jack Link’s Jerky has since tweeted that they were not involved in the stunt and do not condone any non-consensual conduct that occurred. 

Other Allegations Against Dobrik and The Vlog Squad

On top of all this, Francois said that during his time in the Vlog Squad, he was pressured to participate in racist jokes that played into stereotypes about Black people. He felt he could not say no to these bits.

“It was an unwritten thing where you see a pattern of people saying, ‘Yo, I’m uncomfortable with this,’ and all of a sudden they disappear and they’re not in videos anymore,” he explained on the H3 Podcast. 

These are just the latest in a series of accusations former Vlog Squad members have made about Dobrik, Nash, and group’s general culture. Nik Keswani, known to fans as Big Nik, explained to H3 that the group was “toxic” and like a cult. Keswani said that he was bullied and felt forced to make jokes about his own size, which led to other people thinking they could make fun of him in cruel ways. 

YouTuber Trisha Paytas has also accused Dobrik and Nash of inappropriate behavior on multiple occasions. Both she and Francois also say they have heard rumors about Nash assaulting other people or sleeping with minors. In some cases, Paytas says victims have contacted her directly about it. 

Dobrik has not commented on the sexual assault allegations brought up by Francois, but over the summer he did issue a general apology for offensive content he had posed in his past. 

“I want them to have a positive experience when they interact with anything I produce,” he said on his podcast, “Views.”

“And with that being said, I feel like on a handful of occasions I just missed the mark on that, and that really bums me out.”

Why Francois Is Speaking Out

For a long time, Dobrik has been a top creator on YouTube. He is known for his Tesla giveaways and was dubbed Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon by The Wall Street Journal. Francois said he felt the need to speak out because he fears Dobrik is not remorseful and is unaware of the harm he has caused. 

“If [Dobrik and Nash] don’t know what’s wrong and they don’t understand that what they did was wrong, it makes me feel like that could still happen. Or maybe it has happened to other people who are afraid of speaking up,” he told BuzzFeed

Francois said that he has asked for the videos to be removed, but Dobrik tried to offer him cash to keep them up. Dobrik eventually unlisted both prank videos and later privated the second one.

Francois has since tried to resolve the matter privately but has not gotten a response from Dobrik. He told Insider that his goal in speaking up is not to “cancel” anyone, though he felt he had no option but to make the matter public. He is now also considering legal action, which is a path he initially did not want to go down.

“People were saying I’ve betrayed David, but I feel like he betrayed me,” he told the outlet. “I was very hurt and even right now talking about it, it really makes you want to cry.”

“They profited off causing me a lot of mental trauma, which is something that really hurts to know,” he continued. 

Now, people are calling for Dobrik to respond to the allegations. Many are starting to see his content in a new light and believe he should issue an apology. 

See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Insider) (Yahoo)

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