The pandemic is still going strong, distance learning is underway, and YouTube watch times are on the rise, but the content that kids come across isn’t exactly the best or the most educational. At the same time, Black & Latinx families are more reliant on mobile devices for their essential online activities and educational purposes.
The bottom line? The algorithm is in full effect—driving kids to overwhelmingly entertainment-driven videos, often riddled with inappropriate content, from advertising to sexual content to violence.
The Common Sense Census 2020 looks into media use by kids ages 0-8. The report has been conducted every two years since 2011, and serves as our benchmark for how young kids’ use of media and technology is evolving over time. In addition to the media use study, we conducted a YouTube content analysis in partnership with the University of Michigan, analyzing videos watched by kids ages 0-8 on YouTube and developing recommendations for design and policy for YouTube. The most recent report prior to this update was in 2017. This large-scale study was taken before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and provides a compelling snapshot of what pre-pandemic media use in this age group looked like. The timing of the data collection is a plus, as it creates a unique opportunity for us to understand the true impact of the pandemic on media use in future research.
The findings build a strong thought leadership story for us to share around our work to fight for technology that supports learning, health, and opportunity, and solves for inequities by creating an equitable future for kids and families. First, the findings in this year’s census reveal that online video has officially overtaken any other form of screen time in young children. And the YouTube analysis uncovered that amidst this online video viewing, kids are also seeing content that’s inappropriate for their age level, from advertising to violence to sexual content. YouTube, as the leading free, global platform for online video, must change the ways in which it serves content recommendations and advertising to the youngest viewers.
But second, the report shows that progress in closing the digital divide has stalled. While those numbers may have moved since the start of the pandemic, we know where the current numbers stand. It’s clear that the work to close the gap must continue with the support of both government and industry partners.