The Parents Television Council recently did its first study of online media, logically deciding to focus on YouTube – I guess the Web site closest to replicating the broadcast medium, though far from the only video-sharing site youth use. "While we applaud YouTube for its commitment to gating procedures and its recently announced plans to curb inappropriate content [the PTC's research was done before YouTube's announcement this month], the core implication of our analysis is that the site isn't doing enough to protect kids," the PTC press release states (the release links to the full study). One of the "major findings" it highlighted was: "Children entering such 'child-friendly' search terms as 'Miley Cyrus,' 'Jonas Brothers,' 'High School Musical' and 'Hannah Montana' were confronted with highly offensive content in the accompanying text commentary posted by other site users." "Posted by other site users" is a key qualifier.
What's difficult, here, is that an organization focused on conventional mass media (providing regulated content produced by the broadcasters) is critiquing a social media provider (hosting media produced largely by its users). There is no denying the problems that arise when people of all ages use a huge general site and when some of the content users produce and share in the site is inappropriate for youth. The problems are not unique to any single site, not even to media-sharing sites or the Web itself (they're also found on wireless networks – see this on cellphone "sexting"). Yes, parents need to know that a site popular among kids has a whole lot of profanity and sexual innuendo in user comments associated with videos, but let's not compare apples to oranges – a user-driven medium to conventional media – and let's not get distracted from an important collective effort to educate parents and youth about the spectrum of youth risk online (including youth-generated online risk) by looking too much through the lenses of our own experience with media or thinking that adolescent behavior has changed a great deal when one of the realities we're dealing with is that age-old, sometimes shocking adolescent behavior is now a great deal more visible to parents. [Here's more on the PTC study, as well a FilteringFacts.org blogger David Burt's own experience with YouTube search.]