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‘Sonic’ content on YouTube is being flagged as “made for kids”, destroying creator livelihoods

A number of Sonic The Hedgehog creators on YouTube have been seeing the platform mark content using a Made for Kids label recently, seriously damaging their work and income. 

Over the past few weeks, many animators on YouTube have had their content automatically flagged as Made for Kids, despite channels like Balena Productions – which has amassed over 1million subscribers and 517million channel views from animated Sonic content – often marking videos as only appropriate for ages 13 and up.

“At this point in time I do not believe I can continue making animations,” Steven Page, who runs Balena Productions, told NME. The channel’s revenue is now “no longer stable”, with Page also potentially unable to continue commissioning others to help with their work.

Despite channels like Balena Productions clearly marking their Sonic-inspired content as inappropriate for children – due to certain imagery or themes – YouTube has been issuing the Made for Kids label. The label disables comments, notifications and personalised advertising on videos, whilst greatly limiting its reach on the platform.

“Your video is tossed into a pool of other Made for Kids labelled content that is of poor quality, so you’re made irrelevant,” explained Page. “There are Made for Kids’ videos that contain gore and swearing. Adult animation has videos flagged as made for kids, so the tag isn’t even safe for children at all which makes this whole thing worthless.”

A notification for the Made for Kids label was sent to Page in the middle of the night, for a video that took months of work to make. Page’s appeal for the label was rejected almost immediately, something other sources tell NME is a very common occurrence. YouTube then told Page the video was marked correctly, despite the clear 13 plus age rating in the title.

“There’s a grey area that’s safe but YouTube won’t tell you what you have to do,” added Page.

Sonic Frontiers. Credit: Sega

YouTube introduced the Made for Kids classification in 2019, after the Federal Trade Commission investigated the video platform and found that it was using children’s content to serve younger audiences targeted advertisements. This led to a £135million ($170million USD) fine, with YouTube then changing how it monitors content for children.

Pixelrush, another Sonic animation creator, says their most popular video was flagged with the label as recently as this week. Called “See You Again”, the video was uploaded in 2019 as a celebration of Sonic’s 28th anniversary. It currently has over 52million views.

Now, Pixelrush can’t directly engage with their audience on that video, which won’t be promoted as well as it was previously. After sending an appeal for the ruling, Pixelrush was also rejected almost instantly.

“The worst part is that despite being given a choice when uploading the video to set it as made for kids, YouTube’s automated systems can strip away that choice if they pick up on anything that correlates with their policy for kids content such as bright colours and recognisable characters,” Pixelrush explained.

As YouTube crawls the site and issues the Made for Kids label with a built-in algorithm, childrens content can also be uploaded to the platform that hides harmful imagery or themes within the video itself but is still under the kid-friendly label.

This can be messier, as the platform can mark a video as made for kids then decide it’s in fact not appropriate for those under 13, and punish the creator for it. “[YouTube] can potentially strike my channel for breaking the rules that they seemingly make up on the spot,” said Pixelrush.

When asked what this Made for Kids crackdown on Sonic content means for the franchise’s community and animation on the platform, Pixelrush said they’re “not sure”.

What exactly caused the YouTube algorithm to recently target Sonic fan-content also remains unknown. NME was told that the recent Sonic movie sequel may be to blame, whilst others said it likely has nothing to do with it.

“I suppose if there’s anything positive I can derive from this, it’s that the Sonic fanbase will likely keep creating and celebrating the things we love no matter who tries to stop us,” added Pixelrush. “The Sonic fanbase is a lot of things, not all of them good, but we’re persistent.”

Sonic-Colors-Ultimate
Sonic Colors: Ultimate. Credit: Sega

YouTube has been issuing changes to its platform that have been alienating animated content for years. Longer videos with more space for ads that are quick to make is what the platform wants, and an animation’s typically short length and long turnaround time directly oppose that.

“YouTube has in place the tools to be the ultimate video sharing platform, but they are so out of touch with reality I don’t think it will ever get better,” lamented Page. “If YouTube can change these policies, then there’s a chance animators can continue to survive but as we stand it’s just not viable.”

“I think that a lot of people are under the impression Sonic is a strictly kids character,” continued Page. “Sonic is a 31-year-old franchise and he has many fans of different ages. Context matters more than the subject.”

In other news, Nintendo has said that it is concerned about moving on from the Nintendo Switch.

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