GOP senator introduces bill to combat child exploitation on YouTube

GOP senator introduces bill to combat child exploitation on YouTube
© Greg Nash

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyAmazon offering shoppers to track websites they visit Critics slam billion Facebook fine as weak Exclusive: Hawley targets higher ed monopolies with new legislation MORE (R-Mo.) this week introduced a bill that would combat child exploitation on YouTube and other video-sharing platforms by banning their algorithms from automatically recommending videos of minors.

The legislation was introduced on Thursday morning as reports emerged that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is winding down an investigation into whether YouTube violated child privacy laws by collecting data on minors without parental consent. 

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Hawley's bill would require companies like YouTube to stop recommending videos of minors to users or else face fines of up to $10,000 per day. 

The Missouri Republican first released a summary of the bill earlier this month, on the heels of research that found YouTube's recommendation algorithms were enabling child sexual exploitation by suggesting videos of scantily clad children to predators. Hawley officially introduced the bill on Thursday, according to a spokesperson.

Hawley's Protecting Children from Online Predators Act would require companies to give creators the option to identify whether their videos feature children, prompting them to either make the video private or allow it to be seen by a general audience.

Under the legislation, video-sharing platforms could face steep penalties for continuing to recommend those videos. 

YouTube's recommendation system, known best as "Up Next," typically recommends videos that are similar to the one a user is currently watching. That system has come under fire for leading users down conspiracy theory-ridden "rabbit holes" and guiding people from one toxic video to the next. 

YouTube in the first quarter of this year removed more than 800,000 videos for violating its child safety policies. Most of those videos were removed before they had received 10 views, according to the company.

And the video giant has been making efforts to deal with its child sexual exploitation issue. In June, the platform announced that it was reducing recommendations of videos featuring minors in "risky situations."

YouTube also said it is disabling the ability to post comments on videos of minors, following reports that predators were posting comments of time frames in which the children could be seen in positions that could be interpreted as sexual.  

This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube executives had been discussing the fix that Hawley's bill calls for — ending recommendations of children's videos. Executives have also reportedly discussed moving children's content into an entirely separate app with more stringent restrictions. 

"Hard to believe that it takes legislation and a federal investigation for [YouTube] to 'consider' ending its practice of serving videos of children to pedophiles," Hawley wrote on Twitter on Friday.

"C’mon, YouTube, do the right thing," Hawley wrote in another tweet. "Children before profits."