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YouTube is committed to ‘protecting children,’ executives say at annual conference

Kids play a huge role in YouTube's success. They binge watch videos and even star in their own content for legions of followers.

SAN BRUNO, Calif. — Kids play a huge role in YouTube’s success. They binge watch videos and even star in their own content for legions of followers.

Nowhere is this key relationship more on display than the annual VidCon conference happening in Anaheim, California, this week, where tween and teen creators are treated like movie stars by their equally young fans.

But the company has struggled with a number of issues related to children. It’s been accused of aiding pedophiles in finding clips of young girls and serving up recommendations for extremist content after users watched innocent videos. YouTube says it is trying address these issues.

“Nothing is more important than making sure that children are protected on our platform,” Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, told CNN Business at VidCon. “We’re always going to err on the side of protecting children when it comes to any of these product or policy decisions on our platform.”

YouTube has been considering a number of changes to how it handles children’s content, a person familiar with the matter previously told CNN. For example, it could prevent videos from automatically playing after the previous one finishes to address concerns that YouTube’s video recommendation systems can surface violent, disturbing or conspiracy-laced content. Users, including kids, may start watching safe content and then be led to less appropriate videos.

It doesn’t sound like YouTube would go as far as moving all children’s content to its more heavily moderated YouTube Kids app.

“One of the fastest growing surfaces for where YouTube is consumed is actually in the living room on the television screen. That’s often a place where families, parents and children will watch content together,” Mohan said. “That’s an experience that we want to continue to make available to families.”

Earlier this year, YouTube disabled comments on most videos of minors after accusations that pedophiles were exploiting the platform. Some people who run family-focused channels on YouTube featuring their kids have had their comments shut down as a result and they worry about not being able to connect with their fans and grow their audience without comments.

“Comments have been a core part of YouTube since day one,” Mohan said. “But when it came to protecting children, we decided to take this pretty drastic step … because we felt that that was a higher order principle.”

In terms of moderating content on the platform more broadly, Mohan said YouTube’s top priority is safety.

“Content that’s violative of our community guidelines, we will remove from our platform as quickly as possible,” he said. “We want to reduce recommendations of content that might not be community violating, but might be brushing up against it or that is spreading misinformation in some way. We want to reduce the recommendations of those.”

Mohan was at VidCon on Thursday to deliver a keynote speech and announce new ways social media stars can make money from YouTube, including through “Super Stickers” — which are animated gifs that pop up during a live chat in live streams and video premiers. There will also now be “levels” to channel memberships, each of which offers fans different member-only perks, like early access to videos.

“First and foremost, it’s the opportunity to help creators build an audience, a fan base, a set of followers on YouTube. That’s obviously where it all starts,” he told CNN Business. “But then second, it’s about giving them an opportunity to build a business on the platform.”

In his keynote speech, Mohan nodded to some of YouTube’s recent challenges.

“Responsibility is our number one priority,” he said. “This means protecting YouTube from bad actors seeking to exploit our community while preserving the positive impact of an open platform where anyone can share their voice with the world.”

Mohan also said on stage that YouTube is removing more harmful content and reducing recommendations on content it considers “borderline.”

“Sometimes this work moves more slowly than you would like and, frankly, more slowly than I would like,” he said. “This work is just as critical to the future of the YouTube community as any product launch.”

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